Finding a new place to rent can be a stressful and time-consuming event. What should you look for? What questions should you ask the landlord/real estate agent? Is the internet connection good or bad? Is the bedroom big enough? Do they allow pets? Whilst all of these questions are at the front of your mind, there are others that often get missed. Will the landlord be easy to get in touch with? Do they have a list of preferred tradies if something goes wrong that I can call myself? Can I change the door lock? This how to guide is to help you with what to think about in terms of security when you are searching for a new place to rent right through to settling in.
Before moving in
Before you start searching for a property, begin your research on the suburb/s you wish to live in. Let’s break this down and see what this looks like.
Get to know the area during different hours of the day and night. Does the street become busy with cars or is it more of a walking-the-dog kind of place? Do you feel comfortable walking around? Or does it feel like you shouldn’t be there? Do all the homes look like a fortress? Or maybe there’s graffiti on every wall and building? If it feels and looks unsafe, it probably is.
Another way to check the safety of the area is by completing a mock insurance quote. If the premium is higher than what you expected, it's because the insurance company deems it a riskier place to live. On the other hand, if it’s lower, the area is considered safer. The more insurance claims and payouts completed in that area, the higher the premiums go.
Finally, what about the noise level? Does there seem to be a party happening at odd hours of the night? Is it a place of constant hooning tearing up the road? Because who wants to be woken up by all that commotion? Or worse, your home getting damaged when a party gets out of control?
Once you have found your preferred suburb or a cluster of suburbs, now is the time to check out the house or apartment in question.
If you are fortunate to check out the place at sunset, check for lighting outside the home. Any dark nooks and crannies become the perfect hiding spot for anyone wanting to sneak around. Ideally, you'll want to see motion-activated lights in these key areas: front door and driveway.
For those looking at an apartment, you will want to feel safe in all of its common areas. Find out where the light switches are and how well they illuminate those areas too. For outdoor areas, such as the entrances to the complex, the use of motion-activated lights or regular lights that are turned on as the night begins.
Check how well the property has been maintained. From the condition of the door and the door furniture (such as the door handle and door lock) to cracked windows and leaky taps. This can give you a fairly good impression on how attentive your landlord is. Will it be something that can be easily fixed? Or will you be having to wait for weeks before it gets seen to? If you're looking at an apartment complex, what is the state of the fence? Is the garden well maintained?
Another tip for those looking at apartment complexes is to look at its main entry points. Does it have a gated entrance? Or is it a clear space? If it’s gated, is it accessible via fob key or a unique pin? Step it up a notch and check for any surveillance cameras, intercom and any access lifts (if applicable).
What about your car? Does the apartment you want, include a bay? Is it easily accessible and close to the apartment? Is it in an open parking lot where anyone from the streets can enter or is it securely gated?
At moving in time
Congratulations, you have found the perfect place to rent. What security measures should you look for now? Before you sign off on the condition report and move in, keep your eyes open for these:
Door locks. Do you know who has copies of your house keys? Are there any floating out there that maybe the landlord doesn’t know about? This is the perfect opportunity to ask if the locks have been changed since the previous tenants moved out. If the answer is a no, get your landlord’s permission to install a brand new lock or if the existing lock can be rekeyed. Once you have their written permission, and it's up to you, find a Master locksmith to make the changes. Never choose the first advert you see. Always do your research before you enlist their services. Look for reviews, accreditation, and an ABN. Once you have found one, ask for a receipt that shows their ABN, business name and details the work they completed as per quote. Ensure you get copies of the keys so you can give one to your landlord and hold another as a spare. Alternatively, if the landlord takes care of this, then your work on door security is done!
The next check should be on your windows. Check that the windows have keyed locks or window restrictors. If it’s keyed, have you received a set of the keys? If not, ask! You’ll want the flexibility of knowing that you can still open the windows securely whenever you want.
Some rental properties come with fantastic window coverings and others won’t. Make sure that the window coverings prevent anyone outside from looking in at either the day or night. So if you can see in, head out to your nearest shop and purchase some cheap curtains that will give you the privacy you need. Because nothing says ‘check out my stuff’ or ‘I’m not home right now’ to possible intruders like a clear view from the outside.
During your lease
Now that you have settled nicely into your new home what should you do next?
Chances are that as a renter, you won’t be allowed to drill holes or run wires behind the wall without permission. But this shouldn’t mean that you forgo some form of smart security. In this case, getting a wireless camera is the way to go. They aren't hardwired since they use a wifi connection and come with a rechargeable battery. The bonus in this is you can take them with you to your next home. However, if you are afraid that your wireless camera will leave behind damage when removed then there’s an extra step to take. Obtain written permission from your landlord saying it is okay to place the camera where you want it. Ensure they understand that it may leave behind damage on the wall when removed. When asking for the okay, give them as much information to avoid the backwards and forwards of correspondence or causing any delays in getting an answer. What should you include? How it will be installed (i.e. adhesive wall strips or nails), a photo of the location, what you would like put up and why. Don’t risk losing your deposit when you move out due to minor and inconvenient property damage.
We’ve all heard this one before, get to know your neighbours. But how many of us have said something more than just a passing hello? If you’re a bit of an introvert like me, why not opt for a letter in the mail introducing yourself, along with some contact details? I bet you’re asking “why should I go through all this trouble?” Because having friendly neighbours means that you can always call on them to take out the trash or check your mail when you're away and vice versa. Additionally and more importantly, they are more inclined to keep an eye out on your place when you’re not at home.
Get contents insurance. Even though you've taken all the precautions possible, unfortunate incidents can still occur. By having contents insurance, your own belongings such as jewellery, TV, furniture and other valuable items are covered. If you're thinking that the landlord's insurance will cover you, it doesn't. It simply protects their property and that means the four walls and everything that is 'stuck down', such as fixed cabinetry, sinks, carpet, etc. Before you agree to a contents insurance, make sure you read the fine print and check that it is the right one for you.
Lastly, review your door security on an ongoing basis. This can be as simple, as ensuring the hinges and pins are securely in place and the lock continues to work smoothly. If you have any doubts about the security of your property, you should raise this with your landlord.
Having top-notch home security isn’t just for homeowners, renters too should have the best. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Understand more about what you are entitled to under the tenancy acts in your state or territory. Remember, if you feel unsafe about the security of your place, let your landlord know and ask them what they can do about it. For more information relevant to your state/territory, check these government sites.