Renting a home definitely has its advantages, but security isn’t usually one of them. When you own a home, you can install any security system you want, from alarms to cameras—but when you rent, you’re limited to what your landlord will allow.
This doesn’t mean renters are totally out of luck, however. If you’re concerned about your rental home’s security, you still have plenty of options.
All renters need insurance, full stop. It’s super affordable—especially compared to other kinds of insurance—and it’ll save your ass in a number of catastrophic situations.
Renters insurance policies typically cover home burglaries, water damage, vandalism, and fire damage. Depending on the type of insurance you have, you may also be covered for liabilities if someone is injured in your home; some policies even cover theft if your car is broken into while parked at the rental property. If you’re not sure what your policy covers, ask your insurance provider for clarification. They’ll be happy to answer your specific questions.
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Before you drill into your door or install cameras, you should know if you’re allowed to. Modifications and improvements that are fine in one place may be illegal in another, and you shouldn’t rely on your landlord to know the law.
Unfortunately, this makes understanding basic tenants’ rights laws your responsibility. Renters in the U.S. should look at state, county, and city laws surrounding improvements to rental properties. These can be complicated and confusing. If you need help, a local tenants union and/or renters’ advocacy group can help you navigate the laws in your area.
The most common burglary entrance points are the front door, windows, and the back door, in that order. If you’re looking to beef up security, you should start with these areas.
Deadbolts are a cheap, simple way to make any door more secure, so you probably already have one. In that case, it’s worth asking your landlord to verify that they had it re-keyed before you moved in. Former tenants are unlikely to use copies of their old house keys for evil, but knowing for sure that your lock was re-keyed will give you peace of mind.
If your front door doesn’t have a deadbolt, ask your landlord or property manager to fix that ASAP. If they refuse, you can install a deadbolt yourself. Ace Hardware has a good YouTube video on the specific process:
Be sure to take a good look at the metal housing screwed into the door jamb, too. These are called strike plates, and if they’re loose, misaligned, or otherwise poorly installed, they can be a weak point for break-ins. You can make small adjustments to a strike plate’s position using the same techniques shown in the Ace Hardware video, but if yours are in really rough shape, the whole lock might need replacing.
Locks are key to home security, but the way your door was installed also matters. Most exterior doors have hinges on the inside because outside hinges are easier for any random passerby to disassemble. If, for some reason, your front door hinges are on the outside, ask your landlord or property manager to reinstall or replace the door ASAP—preferably before you move in.
Good window security largely boils down to common sense. First and foremost, make sure all of your windows actually lock. If your home has sliding windows—or doors—putting a sturdy rod in the tracks is a cheap, easy way to up its security. And don’t forget blinds or curtains—proper window coverings keep people from seeing what you’re up to.
For an extra layer of security, consider installing window alarms or glass break sensors. Window alarms go off when a window is opened, while glass break sensors detect—you guessed it!—broken glass. If the sheer number of options is overwhelming, start with This Old House’s 2021 guides to door and window alarms and glass break sensors. They’re straightforward and up-to-date.
Home alarm systems usually require permanent equipment installation, which is a dealbreaker for most renters. But this is changing, largely due to the boom in smart home devices. If you’re one of the millions of people who already own one, you can use it to enhance your home’s security.
First, decide if you want a professionally monitored alarm system. Most security firms offer plans for smart devices, from the security-specific (like Ring) to Alexa or Google Nest. Typically, you’ll pay a monthly fee as well as upfront equipment or installation costs.
Should you opt for around-the-clock monitoring, choose a package with DIY installation so you can pack everything up and take it with you when you move. Also, make sure the contract term works with your lease. Most are 24 months, minimum—which eagled-eyed renters will recognize as “longer than most leases.” There are loads of options and the terms change frequently, so really do your research. This Old House’s guide to DIY home security systems is a great place to start.
If professional security feels like overkill, you can buy your own equipment and set up a notification system that works for your needs. Just make sure that any alarms or cameras you buy are compatible with your specific smart home device.
Technology is awesome, but don’t count out old-fashioned solutions. Talking to your neighbors is like the original home security system, and it should still feature in your overall plan.
You don’t have to become besties with everyone, of course. But if you and your neighbors are on a first-name basis, you’re more likely to feel comfortable letting each other know when you’re going out of town or if you see something fishy. Most landlords are concerned about security, so staying in touch with yours can be helpful. If something makes you feel unsafe, be sure to let them know about it—in writing.
This story was originally published in August 2015. It was updated on March 15, 2021 to account for advances in home security technology and to reflect Lifehacker’s current style guidelines.