Choosing a Safe Place to Live
When selecting a place to live, you will want to feel safe in your new home and the surrounding neighbourhood. The landlord should ensure that the tenant's rental space is safe and secure, but overall safety will differ from location to location.
Safety issues vary from urban to rural areas. In towns and cities, tenants consider the crime level in a neighbourhood, the security of both the building and the living space, and lighting in parking areas, entrances and walkways. In rural areas, safety concerns include cellular phone coverage areas, access to emergency services and the distance to after-hours medical care.
When looking at prospective accommodations, ask the following questions:
- How safe is the area?
- How secure is the building/living space?
- Is the building well equipped to prevent a fire? Are fire escape routes well marked?
Safety of the Area
Before deciding to rent, assess the safety of the area. Consider the walk to the nearest transit stop, the local shops and the parking area, if you have a vehicle.
You might consider checking with the local police about crime where you are thinking of renting a place. Ask people living nearby too. Look for evidence of vandalism around the building. Scan the local paper for crime reports in that area.
Get a relative or companion to take a walk or drive around the area with you after dark. Trust your instincts. Does everything appear "locked down" after dark? Do you see evidence of added security beyond what you would normally expect? Does every home look like a fortress, or do local businesses slide metal gates across their storefronts after closing?
Tour the area during the daytime. Do you see people in the neighborhood during business hours? Crime can be prevalent during daylight in a community where all the residents have left their homes for work in another area.
If you are very concerned about safety and you have time for research, review old community newspapers for crime reports.
Building/Living Space Safety
Ensuring basic physical security is the easiest place to begin a safety check of prospective accommodations.
- Check the locks on all windows and doors. For added safety when you move in, request that the landlord change all locks and security codes. The landlord is responsible for the cost of changing the locks and cannot ask the tenant for reimbursement. However, the landlord may not be under any obligation to change the locks.
- Outdoor lights connected to timers or motion sensors deter thieves and provide lighting for tenants returning home late at night.
- Quality locks with deadbolts are more secure than latches.
- Locks on sliding glass doors are easily broken or picked. They often need a reinforcement rod in the track behind the door to prevent an intruder opening it from the outside or lifting it off the track.
- If you will be living in an apartment building, how easily can someone access common areas of the building? Do you need keys to get in or out of the parking garage, laundry room, or recreational area? Are cameras recording activity in such vulnerable areas?
Rural districts have unique situations to consider:
- Properties with uncovered, deep wells.
- Large barns or sheds in poor repair with rotten floors and structures.
- Isolation from other people and sources of assistance in emergencies.
- Roads that may become impassable in severe weather.
- Water quality.
Whether you choose urban or rural, a balance must be maintained between building security and fire safety. Barred windows cannot serve as an escape route. Double deadbolt locks require a key to unlock from either side of the door. Either security "feature" could make escape in a fire difficult or impossible.
Protect your property
Never assume that your landlord's insurance will cover the contents of your apartment in the event of a fire or a theft. What if your basement apartment leaks and water destroys your computer? Make sure you have sufficient tenant's insurance. Each tenant requires their own contents insurance.
What would happen if a fire started? Could you easily reach a fire exit? Are there enough fire exits? When inspecting a prospective rental, consider how different housing styles entail different procedures in case of fire. A poorly converted basement apartment could leave you trapped in a room with windows too small to climb through. A large building complex with an inefficient warning system could leave you with little time to escape.
The primary considerations are how long would it take you to notice a fire alert signal and could you safely leave the building once alerted?
In general, look for functional smoke detectors installed near sleeping spaces. Even if you are asleep, you should be able to hear the smoke detector alarm with the door closed. Look for alternative exits and their practicality if you couldn't see due to darkness or smoke.
Electrical overload is a common source of fire. Does the electrical system meet your needs? Are sufficient outlets available to prevent power taps and excessive extension cord use?
Are space heaters or fireplaces vented properly and are they far enough away from combustible materials, such as drapes? Is the room large enough for your furniture to stand a safe distance from fireplaces and space heaters?
The type of building is also a factor in fire safety. Some building-specific considerations follow:
Are alarm stations, fire extinguishers, emergency exits and lighting easily accessible and maintained? Could you get out of your building without the use of the elevator if you were physically disabled?
If something blocked your primary entrance, could you climb out any of the windows?
If 911 or cellular services are unavailable, what is the number to call in case of fire or other emergency? How do you identify your specific location? Where is the nearest phone if you could not use the one in your home?
What about medical services. Is there a local hospital? Is the emergency ward open 24 hours a day? If not, what options exist for medical emergencies?
Building codes and fire regulations vary from location to location. What may be legal in one city may be illegal in another. For the most accurate information, contact the local fire department or community safety office.
Contact your local fire department to find out if they have recently inspected your house or apartment for fire safety. Most fire prevention departments will inspect your place free of charge. They will deal directly with the landlord to ensure your rental is made safe.