How Do You Know If An Apartment Is Safe?

Everyone knows there are unsavory people out there, who will gladly take our possessions and safety if given the change.  There is almost nothing worse than having to travel over a stretch of ground at night that is unlit.  We all get those goosebumps like someone is watching us, and we just can’t wait to feel the key fit into our doorknob. 

Ask your neighbors how safe they feel at the complex, who hangs around at night, and see how well your apartment grounds are lit, especially from where you park to the front door of your building. 

Some of these things can be done before you even rent an apartment, but if a situation develops while you are already living at the property, then additional steps may need to be taken, including threatening to break the lease if safety issues aren’t addressed. 

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Make sure you visit and drive through the apartment complex at night before you sign a lease agreement.  Are the grounds well lit?  Could you make it from your parking space to your door without feeling spooked out?  Or is it dark and not well lit?  This is something you can control with regards to renting there or not. 

Another thing you should do is check out the neighborhood during the day.  What kind of people, businesses, and things are around?  Is it a place that you would like to be during the day?  Because if you are uncertain, I can tell you for nothing that ISN’T where you want to be at night.  

Before you sign a lease, make sure you check that your apartment doors and windows all shut tight and can lock completely.  The same thing for the main building door out front.  People that can’t get into your building are people that can’t cause problems. 

What Can I Do If I Don’t Feel Safe In My Apartment?

If you don’t feel safe in your apartment, bring your specific concerns to the attention of your landlord or manager and let them handle the safety issue. 

You need to be able to enjoy your apartment happily and safely.  That is part of Quiet Enjoyment that I talk about from time to time.  Tenants have the RIGHT to be able to enjoy their apartment free from hassle.  That means from the neighbors, outside people, or anyone else for that matter.  

As a tenant, you shouldn’t have to constantly be fighting for this right.  This should be a given.  But again, if you willingly move into a place that shows all the warning signs for having these issues, DON’T MOVE IN.   

I can’t TELL you the amount of times people have brought this specific issue to me in passing or conversing about apartment complexes, and I ask them these basic questions about safety and lighting and door locks and the neighborhood… the apartment complex fails every one of them and yet they still signed a lease.  Sigh.  

Your landlord also has the obligation to make sure you are safe in your apartment.  Whether that is replacing the lock on your door, making sure your porch slider shuts securely, or by handling the “guests” that are causing constant commotion at one of your neighbor’s units.  

Your landlord MUST address the problem.  If they don’t, then you aren’t free to enjoy your own apartment, which is what you are paying for.  If your landlord doesn’t address the problem in a reasonable manner and time period, those are grounds to terminate the lease from your end with no penalties involved.  

I’ve never had to deal with a legal issue surrounding safety at my apartment complex, but I can imagine that judges are pretty sympathetic to people with legitimate safety concerns at their apartment complex if it came down to it. 

Is Living In An Apartment Safe?

In the United States, the FBI reports that 74% of all burglaries happen to residential properties, not apartment complexes.  More people around tends to actually lower crime in this instance. 

The first time I came across these facts, I was a little taken aback.  I thought FOR SURE that apartment complexes had to be more dangerous than a single-family home, but I was wrong.  

The reason for this, which I wrote about here, is primarily because there are so many potential people watching and knowing what is going on around them that a potential criminal has a much higher risk of being caught trying to do something illegal at an apartment complex, than at a house on a random street. 

Criminals tend to want not to get caught, so they are always looking for the easiest target.  An apartment building usually has a couple of layers of security, from an outside building door to a keypad or electronic card, down to a person at a gatehouse, checking people in.  

On top of that, people in apartment complexes are used to living in close proximity to other people, and they become very accustomed to other people’s habits, their coming and going, what time they leave and get home, and who usually comes over.   This isn’t neighbors being snoopy, it’s simply things people notice when they are in the same environment as others for a period of time.  

If something breaks that normalcy or something looks out of place, people are going to remember it.  If something happens, it becomes easier to narrow down who saw who do what, and when, because chances are, if it is an apartment complex of any size whatsoever, you are going to have literally dozens of pairs of eyes potentially watching you at any given moment.   This makes robbing a lonely house on a quiet street so much more attractive. 

The statistics on violent crime is a bit harder to nail down and is more of a function of the neighborhoods they are built-in than anything else.  This is the primary reason you should ALWAYS drive through the neighborhood around the apartment complex before you ever sign a lease. 

Can I Break My Apartment Lease If I Feel Unsafe?

Legitimate concerns for safety are a valid reason for breaking a lease.  This would be especially true if your landlord knows about the safety issue and refuses to address it adequately.  

Now, there is a lot of room for interpretation with that, so let’s go over it.  

You can’t simply FEEL that you are unsafe.  Unfounded paranoia is not a reason to go to your landlord and want out of your lease.  If you happen to be more on the paranoid side, you may want to consider getting a roommate or living someplace less crowded, because at apartment complexes there are always going to be people coming and going, that’s just the nature of apartment complexes. 

Feeling unsafe is also not a valid reason to take to your landlord simply because you want out of your lease.  Your landlord is going to know right off the bat whether what you are saying has merit or not just on the basis of the claim.  If you claim that you don’t want to live at the apartment complex anymore because of how poorly lit the complex grounds are, and the landlord looks out and it looks like Piccadilly Circus, they will know you are full of it. 

HOWEVER, if you are having constant and consistent issues with a legitimate concern for your safety, then your landlord must figure that issue out.  The most common of these problems is with guests that some neighbor has over.  Usually, these “guests” are coming and going at all times of the day and night with little or no regard for anyone else who lives in the complex.  

This may take a bit of time for your landlord to get those guests and the tenant that is allowing them in, under control.  But that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with it.  

Case in point… I had a situation where a tenant, and their guests, were themselves causing other tenants to be concerned for their safety when they were around, among other, slightly illegal things they were doing in the apartment.  I had one couple so scared of them and scared that they knew that they had complained about them, that I willingly put them up in a hotel for the weekend until the sheriff finally came to physically take them out of the apartment.   

Things like this do happen, even when strict application rules are in place.  People rent it and let other people stay, or their extended relatives, or whatever, and the next thing you know you have a very real and very legitimate “guest” problem that you never wanted.  

Now, if you are bringing a small issue to your landlord like replacing a broken security light on the outside of the building or replacing a lock on your apartment door… virtually every single time you ask, your landlord will more than likely take care of this problem immediately.  It is in their interest to keep you happy, and when you aren’t safe, then you aren’t happy. 

However, if they drag their feet or just simply refuse to take meaningful action on something you bring them that is an actual issue, you CAN ask them to get out of your lease and move somewhere else.   Bring up the security issues and their failure to address them and ask for your security deposit back.   

Before you ever sign your lease agreement, you should make sure to drive through your apartment complex at night, see what it looks and feels like when the sun isn’t up.  Additionally, drive through the neighborhood surrounding the complex.  Check and make sure your doors and windows lock tight and that there is a lock on the front door of your building.  

If the complex that you are looking at is lacking some of these things, don’t expect them to get better during your stay.  Make sure it is the place you want when you move in. 

Your landlord MUST address any legitimate safety concerns you bring them, as long as they are legitimate.  If they don’t or refuse to address your concerns, then you have ground to break your lease and move someone else.

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John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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