Prairie State Legal Services
Safety and Security
Many people never stop to think about the safety of their apartment until it is too late. You have a basic right to safety within your home. You can expect your landlord to take some necessary steps to protect the security of your apartment. The type of security devices (locks) which landlords provide differ, but in some areas, certain security devices are required by minimum housing standards. Call the Code Enforcement Department in your city to find out what, if anything, is required in your city.
The best type of lock is a DEAD BOLT LOCK, but it may not be a required lock for your apartment. To determine whether or not a lock is a dead bolt, open the door and then lock it. Try to push the bolt (the part which projects into the frame of the door) with your hand. If it does not move, the lock is a dead bolt. If it does move, it is probably some kind of spring latch. Spring latches are the types of locks that can often be opened with a credit card. Dead bolt locks cannot be opened this way.
If you feel you need a dead bolt lock to be secure, contact your landlord and request it. Try to get your landlord to agree, in writing, that he or she will provide you with one. If your landlord refuses, explain why you don't feel your lock is safe. If he or she still refuses, you may consider renting elsewhere or paying for the lock yourself. If you do pay for the lock yourself, ask for the landlord's permission (in writing) to put the lock on before you buy it. S/he does not have to agree to let you install it, and you probably have no right to add a lock without her/his permission. At any rate, the landlord will probably want a key in case of emergencies.
The money you spend on the lock is improving the landlord's property because once the lock is in place, it becomes a fixture to the apartment and belongs to her/him. You cannot remove it when you leave. Although this may not be the best solution, it may still be a good idea for you to feel safe and secure.
Generally, when looking at an apartment to rent, you should carefully inspect it to see if there is adequate security. Check the locks on the doors and the lighting in the hallways and stairways as well as the parking areas. Check the windows to see if they have locks that work which prevent them from being lifted from the frame.
Once you are in an apartment, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. You shouldengrave all your valuables with your social security number or drivers' license number. The police department in your city may do this without charge. If not, scratch it in yourself with a sharp object. This may help insure a return of your valuables if they are stolen. If you go out of town for any length of time, have your mail and/or newspaper held or have a neighbor pick them up. A telephone call is required to hold your newspaper. Go to the post office and fill out a card to hold your mail. You can then pick up your mail at the end of the trip. Ask your neighbor to park her/his car in your driveway or in front of your house so it looks as if someone is home. You may also want to put your lights on a timer to give the place the appearance of activity.
If you are a women, you should take added precautions to reduce the chances of being a victim of violence. Put only your first initial on your mailbox and in the phone book. Do not set yourself up for a violent encounter. You don't have to speak to, open the door for, or have any contact with anyone that you do not want to -- even if you are married to that person. If you are a victim of physical abuse or violence, whether rape or domestic abuse, you should call the police immediately. There are various social agencies that can help. See the "Important Numbers" section of this handbook. In short, use common sense and protect yourself.
Most leases will have clauses that allow the landlord to enter your apartment to examine the conditions of it or to make repairs or to show the apartment to possible new tenants. Try to find a lease that provides for reasonable notice, at least 24 hours ahead of time if there is no emergency
Try also to have the landlord's entry limited to a reasonable time of the day. If your lease is silent on this or you have an oral lease, then deciding when the landlord may enter is not easy. The general rule probably is that the landlord may enter with reasonable notice during reasonable times of the day except in case of an emergency when he can enter at any time without notice. There is no law defining the terms "reasonable notice" or "reasonable time" so you have little protection under the general rule.
You do have some rights to privacy in your apartment or house. If you do not have a reasonable notice or an entry at a reasonable hour clause on your lease, your right to privacy may still be damaged by your landlord. If your landlord frequently comes into your apartment without notice and at unreasonable hours, you should seek legal help. As a tenant, you are entitled to possession of the premises and your landlord cannot interfere unreasonably with your use and enjoyment of the premises. Therefore, if your landlord is unnecessarily invading your right to possession and privacy, you may take legal action against her/him.
As an alternative to seeking legal advice, or under the advice of an attorney, you may want to send a letter like the following one to encourage your landlord to respect your privacy.
As a tenant of the premises located at (address), I have certain privacy rights. I request that in the future you follow these reasonable rules before entering my home:
If you follow these rules, I will welcome you as a guest whenever possible. If you do not follow these rules, I will refuse to allow you to enter.
Although your landlord may not have to follow these rules, stating them clearly may clear up problems in the future. Of course, as with all correspondence with your landlord, keep a copy.
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