Crime prevention should start early

FOR RENTERS

April 17, 1994|By George B. Laurent

Crime seems to be on everyone's mind these days. More and more tenants are saying that they recently rented apartments and have now found a lot of crime in the area.

They are frightened and wonder whether they can get out of their leases. Unfortunately, the answer is: If they break the lease, the landlord can hold them for lost rent.

Their area or apartment complex may not be as dangerous as they believe.

And today, there are probably very few communities free of crime.

Tenants can lessen the chance of moving into apartments in areas where there is a lot of crime, or where management takes inadequate precautions to reduce the risk.

Before signing a lease, drive through the complex at night to see how well-lighted the apartment buildings and parking areas are. Are there a lot of bushes and foliage to give criminals a place to hide?

During the day, try to ask tenants how safe the area seems to be and how responsive management is to security concerns -- for example, if a light goes out on an exterior entrance or in the parking area, does management immediately replace the bulb or does it take weeks?

Are halls and stairwells properly lighted? Does management inform a tenant in advance if staff members are going to enter the apartment? Is management careless with the keys of apartments?

When you inspect an apartment for rental, does it have a solid door and door frame and a 1-inch deadbolt lock? Is there a wide-angle peephole in the door?

Will management have the locks changed for you -- with or without charge?

Be especially careful about ground-floor apartments and be aware that management does not have to provide bars for windows. See about secure window locks.

Once you move into an apartment, it would be wise to take the following precautions no matter where you live. Remember that crime has no boundaries.

If you are a woman living alone, use only your first initial on mail boxes or in the telephone directory. Have a male friend program your answering machine.

When away, use automatic timers that can switch on and off lights, a radio and TV at varying times.

Keep an inventory of your possessions. Mark valuables for identification by engraving your driver's license followed by letters "MD."

Carry renters' insurance, which not only covers your possessions, but gives you liability protection.

Always park in well-lighted areas. Be alert as you leave or approach your apartment or car. Have your keys ready. Look to see if anyone is in the car.

Know your neighbors.

Seek to organize an apartment block watch program with the cooperation of your landlord and your local police department (unfortunately, some management companies resist such activities either because they are reluctant to "emphasize" crime or they fear that there may be some additional costs involved in making their complex more secure).

The police are anxious to help and have excellent, free materials on crime prevention.

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

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