Hand opening door before security assessment

It might be scary to spend even one more night in your apartment after a break-in, but follow these tips — and conduct a security assessment — and it'll be easier to feel comfortable in your space.


Your first instinct might be to search for a new place, but a security assessment can help restore that home-sweet-home feeling.

An apartment break-in can leave you feeling on edge — and trust me, I know, because I’ve dealt with it twice (cue sad-face emoticon). But after you clean up the damage and report the break-in to the police, landlord, and insurance company, there’s one thing you should absolutely do: a residential security assessment.

So before you start searching for new apartments for rent in Philadelphia, PA, or Boston, MA, see if you can reclaim some peace of mind (and save yourself moving costs). A few simple actions could make all the difference.

What is a security assessment, exactly?

A security assessment is basically an audit of your apartment’s vulnerable spots. An assessment evaluates every element of your home’s security (or lack thereof), from outdoor lighting to landscaping to the solidity of windows and doors.

  1. The DIY route: The first, and easiest (though more time-consuming), way to inspect your home security is to download an assessment form on your own and start identifying your property’s weaknesses. Some police departments and private security companies have checklists that you can use as a guide to “harden the target,” in police lingo (translation: make your place less tempting to burglars). Some of the most common questions include: Does your front door have breakable glass? (That’s how the first robber got into my home, FYI.) Is your home’s exterior well-lit at night? Do your first-floor windows have secondary locks? Others go into more obscure concerns (e.g., can your landscaping serve as a hiding place?) that you might not yet have thought of — and might not be able to change without your landlord’s help.
  2. Call the cops: The second way to complete a security assessment is to contact your local police department, either before or after you’ve self-assessed, and see if they can send someone to point out additional vulnerabilities. Some local departments have public safety officers on payroll who will make specific recommendations for what steps you can take (or ask your landlord to take) to make your place more secure. (Yes, finally: your tax dollars at work!) This is not an often-advertised service, however, so you’re best off calling your local precinct to see what’s available near you.
  3. Pay your own way: Finally, you can call on a private home security company to come and conduct a thorough audit. Needless to say, this is the priciest of the three options, but as the cliché goes, you can’t put a price tag on peace of mind — well, you can, but peace of mind doesn’t come cheap. If you’re already planning on investing in a heavy-duty home security system (or your landlord is), this might be the way to go.

What else can you do to protect yourself and your home?

Regardless of the option you choose, a security assessment is a necessary, long-term response to a break-in. But there are additional, more immediate steps you can take to prevent future losses.

Inform the neighborhood association: Find out if your neighborhood or apartment building has an organization for residents. (Fun fact: Homeowners’ associations often frequently welcome renters.) Many of these organizations have Facebook groups or other ways of communicating with members and residents between monthly meetings. If you haven’t already, join the group, introduce yourself, and relay the details of your robbery. Besides the outpouring of sympathy (which is nice!), you might find out that others have recently noticed suspicious activity in the area or have experienced similar break-ins. Your neighbors will also be more likely to keep an eye on your property in the future.

Collect your serial numbers: Thieves are really only after one thing these days: electronics. Your laptops, desktops, phones, and tablets are their prized possessions, with TVs and accoutrements (Apple TV, Roku, etc.) the runners-up. Password-protect everything and write down and save the serial numbers of every item. And always, always back up your devices to an external drive that you keep separate from your other electronics.

Get a safe (or at least a good hiding place): Do you leave your laptop on the coffee table before rushing off to work? Time to reconsider your storage strategy. Thieves will enter your home and immediately scout for the big-ticket items; the harder it is to find your computers, the harder it is for them to be stolen. A laptop safe will run you well under $200 and is a foolproof way to protect your most vulnerable assets. At the very least, pick an obscure place to stash your computer or tablet.

Invest in a security system: Yes, it’s time. If you’re a renter, you can talk to your landlord about installing motion detectors on the exterior lights and possibly putting up security cameras. But there are also now a host of affordable home security systems, like SimpliSafe, that you can install yourself in a rental property and then take with you when you move on.

Deep-clean and/or repaint: It’s creepy to think about a nefarious stranger skulking around your home trying to find your valuables. Once the police have fingerprinted and left, get to work on a deep clean of your apartment to rid the space of its alien feel. If you’re still getting the creeps now and then, consider repainting your space (pending landlord approval). A different look or brighter feel can obscure unwelcome memories.

Burn a smudge stick: Cleansing a space of negative energy — through the slow burning of a bundle of herbs — is a Native American practice with scientific backing. The belief is that smudging combats the positive ions in our air that turn into free radicals and induce depression, among many other bodily effects. No harm in trying, right?

Get a dog: Seriously! Home security systems don’t actually prevent robberies; they just speed the thief up and/or deter them from venturing deeper into the home. A barking dog can have a similar effect; my pup was instrumental in truncating my second break-in. If your apartment allows dogs, think about adopting one.

Throw a party: Again, this is a “soft” way to combat the trauma of a theft, but bringing a lot of friends into your space can permanently shift the vibe. Invite your new friends from the neighborhood association! Put a bow tie on the new dog! Show off your new paint job! Change the dialogue about your home, and remind yourself why you fell in love with it in the first place.

Have you done a security assessment of your rental? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below!