College is an exciting time in anyone's life, and living in off-campus housing can be even better. Campus housing might be close to classes, but you must abide by a strict set of rules and possibly even a curfew. Off-campus housing might still enforce some rules, but they tend to be far more lenient and give students a new level of freedom.
Between late-night study sessions, weekend parties, and housemates, your apartment’s door may be left unlocked, and you might have strangers in your home at random times. Despite this, you can still feel just as safe at your home away from home as you do in your childhood bedroom.
Since most off-campus housing is owned by someone else, first talk to your landlord about installing any of these security options. Smart features can make the property more attractive to rent, and they can subsidize their investment by including the costs in the rent. Once you've made your case, consider these security features for your off-campus housing.
Related: Campus Safety: The Non-List
1. Invest in a smart lock
One of the easiest ways to add more protection to your college apartment is a smart lock. The key feature of a smart lock is its auto-locking feature—the door will lock itself after a set amount of time. It's perfect for mornings when you sleep late and need to rush to class without even snagging breakfast.
If your smart lock has a keypad, you can give out different codes to friends and family. You will be notified when a certain code is used so you know exactly who is in your home and when—a great option for students with housemates. You can also check the smart lock app to find out whether your door is locked or unlocked, open or closed. If you need to unlock the door for a surprise guest, you can do so with the tap of a button.
2. Install security cameras
A security camera on the front door will let you check on what's happening on the property no matter where you are or what the time of day it is. Modern security cameras include motion sensors, and some even have motion-activated lights. When someone or something passes in front of the camera, it begins recording, and you’ll receive a push notification on your phone.
Affordable security cameras are available for those on a tight budget, but here's the best news: the mere presence of a security camera is often enough to deter most burglars. Even a fake security camera on your front door is better than nothing.
If a burglary does occur, security cameras will provide you with footage and potential evidence to turn over to the police. It's a toss-up between a smart lock and a smart security camera for the best bang-for-your-buck security. Although cameras can be expensive for a college student's budget, having one can provide a lot of peace of mind.
3. Install a smart doorbell
A smart doorbell registers any motion on the front door and alerts you via phone. This is a great way to keep an eye out for package thieves, but it also serves another purpose: it allows you to respond as if you're at home, even when you aren't.
A local news station in Portland, Oregon, performed a survey of incarcerated burglars and asked them a series of questions about what made them target a specific home. Every inmate said they would knock on the door before they broke in—and the presence of a homeowner would send them packing. A smart doorbell gives you the ability to tell someone you're watching them, which is usually more than enough to discourage a potential thief from breaking in.
4. Buy smart plugs
Smart plugs are small, inexpensive accessories that give automation to "dumb" appliances, letting you control your television or a lamp remotely. If a burglar hears the TV in the background or sees a light turn on or off inside a home, it signals that someone is inside and tells them to find an easier target. Because smart plugs are some of the most affordable smart home devices, they are excellent options for students to create a sense of occupancy, even when you're in class.
You can program smart plugs to turn on and off at random times, or you can control the devices via your phone. Even if you don't use the plug for home security, it's a great tool for convenience.
5. Purchase a home security system
A home security system is the most expensive but also the most effective option for safeguarding your off-campus apartment. If you can afford it, a home security system will provide you with door and window sensors, security cameras, and motion sensors. Some even come with professional monitoring, which means a team will review any activity the sensors pick up in your home and contact the authorities if something is wrong.
Although it can be an expensive investment upfront, many companies offer financing options to help those on tighter budgets, and the month-to-month fee for professional monitoring is usually little more than a Netflix subscription.
General security tips
That news station’s survey revealed a lot about a burglar's mindset. One of the primary entry points into a home is through a window. If a burglar can see valuable items through a window— for example, jewelry or electronics on a dresser—then they can break it and snatch the items. Most burglaries took place in late morning or early afternoon when most people are away from home.
A car in the driveway is also a sign that someone is home. Leave your car at home and take public transportation if possible. You'll get the added benefit of helping the environment while making anyone with an eye for your possessions think twice about breaking in.
Related: Top Campus Safety Tips
While nothing can be guaranteed to stop a burglar from breaking into your off-campus home, most thieves look for the low-hanging fruit—easy targets they can get in and out of quickly. If your home has a camera or other smart device that might make their job more difficult, the average thief will look for an easier target.