Think you can run to the store for “just a minute” and skip locking the door? Keep in mind that every 15 seconds or so, 24 hours a day, a burglary occurs in the United States. According to criminal justice statistics, more than 2 million homes were burglarized in 2002 in the U.S., with the months of June, July and August most prolific.

Detective Jim Willis of the Los Angles Police Department explains, “Unlocked doors and windows are the classic form of entry in about half the break-ins. Burglary can be preventable by simply securing your residence.” Summertime is a favorite time for leaving windows or doors open. Suggestions to keep intruders out:

  • Starting at the front door, check if the lock is adequate. The average burglar will give up trying to force entry after about four minutes. How long would it take to gain access to your place?

  • Take a stroll with a friend. Walk outside the perimeter of the place you call home and evaluate the break-in points. Try locking all the windows and testing the “tugability.” A friend may note something you may have grown accustomed to and missed, such as a ladder outside in the garage. Keep any item for gaining entry locked up and put away.

  • Stay trim. Bushes, trees and outside obstructions should be kept trimmed and away from windows and entry areas. Like any predator, intruders appreciate a place to hide before they pounce. Don’t give them a chance.

  • Deadbolts usually provide an extra hedge against entry. If your unit doesn’t have one, ask the landlord to install one. In some states, the law actually requires a deadbolt on doors for renters. For California, State Civil Code 1941.3 requires that an owner or manager provide “an operable deadbolt lock on each main swinging door of a dwelling unit” ( Texas law requires keyless bolts on doors. Lawless? Landlord unwilling to put in a lock? Offer to split the cost–or splurge–most locksmiths can install one for about $100, plus parts. Since a hole may need to be drilled to install the bolt, get written permission before wielding any tools.

  • Non-swinging doors, such as sliding patio doors, should have a dowel pin installed into the frame. Sliding doors can be lifted out of the track and removed if the lock or a dowel is not secure.

  • Window locks are important, too. A recent break-in via a bathroom window surprised one renter. The thief slid open the small 24-inch-by-18-inch unlocked window, tilted it out and climbed in. Minutes later, the tenant’s jewelry–and the thief–were long gone. Be sure to lock all windows (even small ones) to be safe before leaving the premises, especially summertime.

  • Experts at the New Castle County Police suggest, “If you leave it, lock it!” in their burglary prevention brochure, which emphasis the need for lockup diligence.

  • Peekaboo. Police advocate the installation and use of peepholes–it’s a good idea to look before you unlock the door.

  • Women living by themselves should use their initials and last name on the mailbox, rather than full names and “Miss,” “Ms” or “Mrs.,” as suggested by Chattanooga police.

  • Light up your life. Use timers (about $10 at most home stores) to plug into lamps and radios to give your place the “lived in look,” both visually and audibly when you’re away. Also check that the building’s exterior is well lit at night. If the place is dark, notify the management about the situation. As a matter of fact, some states have minimum standards for exterior lighting.

  • Know your neighbor. Join or organize an apartment watch group that allows everyone to get together regularly, discuss common concerns, and look out for each other. A recent break-in was thwarted when our neighbor noticed a young man pulling out the window to gain entry. The police were called and the suspect apprehended within minutes.

  • Insure it. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, losses due to burglary averaged $1,482 per offense in 2002. Consider getting renter’s insurance in order to prevent a loss that is hard to compensate.

  • Something amiss? If you come home and find the door unlocked or suspect a burglar is inside–do not enter. Leave quietly and call the police immediately. The quicker they’re notified, the higher the odds your possessions will be recovered. Be sure not to touch or disturb anything, especially due to fingerprints, until police arrive.

While in most states, a landlord has a basic duty to keep the premises safe–remember it’s a joint effort–between landlord and tenant–to keep intruders out.


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