In any big city, personal safety is a concern and New York City is no different. While your parents’ memories of the crime-ridden streets of the 70s are long gone, their daily texts checking on your whereabouts and well-being are understandable, especially if you are new to the city or living solo. Crime can happen just about anywhere — from a dark street to a packed subway platform to your very own apartment. To protect yourself in New York City, the first thing to do is make sure your home is safe. Check out this guide to common security and safety issues in New York City apartments.
Doors, Windows and Locks
Regardless of how skilled a potential intruder is, chances are they will test the door and all easily accessible windows. So, lock your doors and windows! This is the most obvious home security advice, but according to the FBI, a third of all home intruders enter through open doors or windows. If you live in a building with four or more dwellings, you have the right to install an additional lock to your door for increased security. You are also entitled to a front door with a peephole and a chain as well.
If you live in a ground-floor apartment or in an apartment with windows overlooking a fire escape or climbable patio, you should be vigilant about locking your windows. Although there is no legal requirement that your landlord provides a unit with window bars, according to the New York City Bar, he “must protect you from reasonably predictable criminal harm.” So if you have a strong case that your apartment is at risk for invasion because you don’t have bars on the window, your landlord may be willing to install them for you. If your landlord is unwilling to do so, there are plenty of economical options for tenants. Check out the selection of easy-to-install window locks at your local hardware store or Home Depot for a quick safety upgrade.
It’s also worth noting that your landlord is required to install child-safety window guards if you live in a building with more than three units and there is at least one child under the age of 10 living in the building. You don’t necessarily need to have a child to request that your landlord installs guards. If you want them, your landlord must accommodate that request. When you sign a lease, look for this provision. It’s the law.
All apartment buildings built after 1968 are required to have self-closing, self-locking entryways, a mirror in the elevator and sufficient lighting in entrances, stairways, and yards. Make sure that your building maintains its safety protocols and when you notice issues, be sure to file a complaint with your landlord or management company.
Your building’s safety is not just a personal issue, but a community issue so if you have concerns reach out to neighbors. The two judo experts across the hall might be cool with holding the door open for anyone who wants to come in, but you may not be. Check your lease to see if it makes provisions about allowing guests in. If it does not, speak to your neighbor directly and ask them to amend their behavior either by requesting they ask the name and destination of all non-residents entering the building.
Technology is Not the Answer
More and more buildings are using key codes instead of locks to gain entry to common spaces. After a few months, it’s a safe bet that more than a few non-residents will have that code. If your building is going digital, push for a regular update to the code to minimize the chances that a one-time party guest will make a return appearance. Moreover, intercom systems that let people open up the front door from their apartment (or even from their smartphone) also increase the opportunity for an unwanted guest to buzz down the list until someone lets them in. Again, it is important to foster a sense of communal responsibility in the place you live. Communication and transparency at the get-go can save you and your neighbors a lot of trouble later on.
Points of Entry
When you move into a new apartment, look out for vulnerable areas that might be conducive to forced entry or hiding spots. Does your building have common roof access, backyard space or a basement? Are two sets of doors creating a blind spot at your building entrance? It isn’t necessarily your right as a tenant to update your building’s common security infrastructure, but if you have concerns, you need to raise them with your landlord. If your landlord is adverse to the cost of replacing a door or installing a new security system, insist on less intrusive and expensive workarounds such as hanging a mirror, installing motion-sensor lighting and putting up alarm system stickers. That said, you should take these alternatives at face value. As workarounds, they should not be reliable solutions to blatant security issues. If you have concerns about the safety of entrances to your building prior to moving in, ask that they are addressed before you sign the lease.
The Power of Community
As big and anonymous as New York City can be, the city can also be very provincial. Help make your block and your building micro-communities where people know you and you know them, so you have each other’s backs. Having a neighbor you can count on will bring you peace of mind on a daily basis and also can act as a crucial resource in case of an emergency. While it’s great to have some to say good morning to and whom you can ask to pick up your mail while you’re out of town, it’s all the more important to have someone’s doorbell you can ring if feel you are being followed. Making local connections is crucial and it starts with simply making yourself present in the community. Patronize the local shops, drop in at the block party and introduce yourself to your neighbors. If you live far from friends or family, these people will be your first line of support when you need help.