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Making Apartments More Secure

What You Should Know About Preventing Break-ins Before You Find an Apartment in Houston
It was raining as Melissa drove up the road to her luxury apartment in Houston, Texas. It had been a long day at work and she was ready to relax. She pulled in her parking space and walked into her apartment.

As she pulled on the door the handle felt loose, as if the door was not fully engaged. As the door swung open, Melissa looked in. Everything looked OK, so she walked into the hallway of her apartment and looked around (Security tip: Don't go in alone. If you think there has been foul play, call the police).

As she walked into her living room, she noticed that her computer was gone; her heart sped up as she rushed through the apartment and found that her television and stereo were also gone. She ran out of her apartment and went straight to the apartment manager. The apartment manager called the police, who responded immediately.

Melissa decided on the spot that she was moving out. The apartment complex lost a great rent-paying apartment resident. What could the apartment manager or property owner have done differently when leasing apartments in Houston? What can you take from this story to assist you when you are trying to find an apartment in Houston?

Preventing the Break-in
The most common criminal threat to a apartment resident is burglary. The majority of burglaries are committed during the day when most people are at work or at school, so that the burglar does not run into anyone when entering your apartment. Most burglars are looking for things that are small, expensive and can be very easily converted in to cash. In my community, 30 percent of the break-ins occur through open doors and windows. The others have their rental property broken into.

Burglars know that the back door and the garage doors are the easiest to get into. They can use a credit card (I have tried this one successfully), or pliers and a screwdriver to get into most apartments. Some just use the "kick in the door" method. It is often successful because strike plates are usually installed with half-inch screws instead of 3-inch screws or the dead bolt throw is not an inch long.

Sliding glass doors are often left open for pet access or can be easily opened because the latching mechanism faces a significant amount of use and does not latch properly. The aluminum latches can become worn or lose adjustment. A common form of entry into an apartment is to pry at the door near the latch and lift the latch, or—even simpler—lift the door out of the track.

Blocking devices, such as a wood or metal blocks will keep the door from being pried open. Keeping the door rollers adjusted and in good condition plus the installation of a pin that extends through both the sliding and the fixed portion of the door will keep a burglar from lifting the door out of the frame. Windows are also left open and very easy to break into. One can limit the amount a window can slide with a wooden or metal dowel. One can also install screws into the upper track of the movable glass panel to prevent it from being lifted out of the frame. Remember that windows on the first floor of the apartment complex are easier to get into than windows on the second floor.

Sometimes apartment residents leave an extra key outside to let the kids in, maybe in the planter box, or under a rock or on the door ledge, or under the mat. Don't think that burglars don't look there first. It is better to encourage them to leave keys with a neighbor.

It's a good practice to have timers that turn on the lights and music in an apartment every night. Exterior lighting is also very important. Good lighting makes us feel safe. Lighting should allow you to read building numbers and easily walk from your car to an apartment. Experts say that the lighting should enable you to identify a potential threat at 100 feet.

Metal halide lights throw a bright white light, which is especially useful for large parking lots and walking paths. Fluorescent lamps are commonly used for covered parking and common area walkways and stairwells. They last longer than incandescent bulbs and use less energy.

What Can an Apartment Manager Do?
What could the apartment manager have done to make the rental property safer and keep Melissa from moving out?

She could have had a regular get together with the apartment residents. Maybe once a year the local crime prevention officer could visit with the apartment residents.

The apartment manager could have given a welcome package to new apartment residents that include a write up on crime prevention .

All of the units could have deadbolts on all of the doors, properly installed of course, and peepholes, so an apartment resident can look out if there is an unannounced visitor.

She should have a policy for changing of door locks between every apartment resident.

The apartment manager could also encourage apartment residents to keep their blinds or curtains drawn when they are not at home, so a potential burglar cannot see items of value in their apartment that might be tempting.

Parking tags should be removable and they should not identify the rental property where an apartment resident lives. In addition, it's a good practice not to number parking lot spaces by apartment unit number. This can prevent potential burglars from telling if an apartment resident is or is not home.

She could explain that apartment residents must do their part by being careful and responsible. The apartment resident should avoid advertising that they are not home or that they are on vacation simply by not having the newspaper picked up or leaving a note on the door, invites burglars.

In summary, there is no perfect solution to the crime problem. Banks with armed guards get robbed, and apartments are a much easier target. But property owners and apartment managers should ask what initiatives they have taken to make their apartment residents and their rental property more secure, and apartment residents should do their part as well.

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