Good locks cost money and most of the locks on apartment buildings and rental units are not good locks. Door security is more than just a good lock. You need a re-enforced doorjamb and striker plate as well. These are things you can remove and take with you when you move, so invest in a good set. If your door doesn’t have a wide-angle peephole and an exterior security light, ask the landlord to install them. Get in the habit of using them every time you answer the door, and before you unlock it.
Before You Move In
Request your landlord change the locks. This is a simple procedure and one most landlords do routinely to keep former tenants from coming back for any reason. But some forget or don’t get around to it. Larger complexes are generally good about the swap; private owners will often try to convince you they “got all the keys back,” and won’t change the lock without some strong incentive to do so. Former tenants have often left a key hidden somewhere and forgotten about it, or have given a spare to a friend or neighbor and never retrieved it. You can’t know for sure, but it’s your stuff at risk. Isn’t it worth the hassle?
If the landlord won’t change the locks, then change them yourself and give the landlord a spare. Or, you can offer to pay for a locksmith to do it for them. The average cost is $50 to $75 and well worth the peace of mind you’ll get. Per most contracts, the landlord does have a right to access your apartment or home in an emergency (water leak, fire, smoke or at the request of police with a search warrant).
Picking a Great Lock
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rates locks in terms of quality and security. ANSI rated locks range from Grade One, the highest quality, to Grade Three, the lowest quality. Get the highest rated ANSI lock your budget will allow. Some landlords will either allow you to deduct the cost of the lock from your rent, or will buy and install it themselves if you insist.
Ask your local locksmith about a “bump-proof” lock. Bump-proof locks protect against criminals who use a “bump-key,” usually available over the Internet for a couple of dollars, to pick your lock. Bump-keys are illegal to own or possess. Fear of being in possession of illegal keys isn’t going to stop the person using it to break into your home, and you should be aware of the threat. A good bump-proof lock can be purchased for about $30, even though some places may quote you a higher rate.
Deadbolt locks offer the most security, but the “throw” or the bolt must be at least 1-inch long. If your door has glass in it that could be knocked out, allowing someone to reach through the broken pane to turn the lock, consider getting a double-cylinder deadbolt instead. A double-cylinder deadbolt means you must open the lock from inside and outside with a key. This can be a concern if there is a fire or an emergency because you could be locked inside and trapped. Keep a spare key out of sight, but close to the door to prevent this. Some landlords prohibit this kind of cylinder as well.
If you don’t have the budget for an expensive lock, you can still increase security by simply replacing the screws in your existing strike plate with extra-long, three-inch screws for added protection. Since the first thing to “give” in a forced entry is the doorjamb, everything you can do to strengthen or reinforce the jamb helps. Doorjamb reinforcement kits are easy to install. They strengthen the key strike points burglars go after: hinges, strike plate and the door edge.
If you’re concerned about security check with your local locksmith, not a hardware store, for more information.