When you're hunting for apartments it's easy to get wrapped up in checking out the features of each building and forget to ask important questions. Nobody likes to dwell on potential problems, and a landlord certainly won't volunteer any negatives about their property unless you ask them.
I've provided two lists of questions previously in this blog, one focusing on applications and fees, and the other on maintenance and hiring practices. Today I've got another set of questions to add to your list, this time about building security.
Security is an incredibly important thing to consider, and one that far too few renters think about until they become victims of a crime. There are some definite best practices to follow, so in this case I'm going to deviate a little from the format of our previous lists and also provide recommended answers that you should hear when asking the questions below.
- Where do you store your copy of the keys to this apartment?The answer to this one should be off site, in a secure location such as a key safe or a locked cabinet. When a landlord keeps all apartment keys on site, it's very easy for someone to gain access to every apartment in the building in one hit.
- How many employees have unsupervised access to apartment and building keys?There is no exact number that a landlord should give in answer to this question, but they should be able to provide you with a number of people.
- What policies do you have in place to make sure keys are returned to your storage location?Landlords should have a consistent check-in/check-out policy for apartment keys.
- How many people have touched copies of the current apartment keys since the locks were last changed?The best answer to this is "we change the locks every time someone moves out, so you shouldn't worry about it."
- How many different keys must someone use to get from the street to this apartment? To the storage area? To the parking lot/garage?The answer to this should be at least three - one for exterior building access and two (deadbolt and doorknob) for the apartment itself.
- What sort of additional security do you offer to renters? Are there cameras? Are there guards?This one has no specific answer. It may, however, be a deciding factor for you as you choose between all the apartments you see on your search. Extra security is definitely a worthwhile perk.
- Can renters install burglar bars on the windows and windowed doors?Some landlords are so concerned about their building's exterior appearance or the condition of window frames that they don't allow installation of burglar bars. If you're renting an apartment within 10 feet of the ground you should be allowed to install bars on the windows, and every renter should be allowed to install bars on windowed doors.
- If there are security cameras, how long do you store their footage? Where is it stored? Who has access to the footage?Old videotape based systems might top out at 2 weeks of footage. Newer digital systems can store up to a year. For most apartments a month is fine. Video recording hardware should be stored in a secured location and accessed only if needed. There's a fine line between additional security and the invasion of privacy.
- Is the lighting for common areas and outside areas set on a timer or a daylight sensor?Daylight sensors are far more reliable when it comes to common area lighting, as they keep up with the seasonal changes in daylight. I can always tell which buildings have their lighting on timers, because they're always dark in the evening after the switch away from daylight savings time each fall.
- How many tenants in this building own firearms and keep them in their apartments?There is no "right" answer to this other than your own level of comfort. A good landlord will know the answer, though. This is not just a matter of personal safety and comfort - a landlord who knows which tenants own or are likely to own weapons is a landlord that know their tenants well and is aware of what's going on within their property.
- If there is a laundry room, is it a coin system or a card system?Coin-based laundry systems are common targets for thieves. If a thief knocks over the laundry machines, they can be down for quite a while.
- Does this building have a crime-free lease addendum?Crime-free policies are double edged swords. They allow landlords to speedily remove anyone who causes police to be called to the property, but they also discourage crime victims from calling for help when needed out of fear of eviction. Chicago does not have a law in place that requires landlords to use crime-free lease addenda, but many suburbs do.
- How many times have the police been called to this property in the past year? How about to this block?The landlord may not know the answer to this one. I wouldn't necessarily hold it against them if they don't. However, the local police department certainly will know and you should check with them before renting anywhere.
- How many agencies currently have keys to show this apartment?Chicago's non-exclusive leasing model means that many apartment locator services could have copies of the keys to your apartment. Even if a landlord has good in-house policies regarding key storage, they have very little control over what happens with keys that they distribute to these agencies.
Have you experienced a security problem in your apartment that could have been prevented by asking a particular question before you moved in? Let us know in the comments and we may cover it in a follow up!
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