Updated October 13, 2023
Moving into a new apartment is chaotic, and you’ll have plenty on your plate throughout the process. Packing, moving out, moving in—not to mention finding a new apartment in the first place.
But, once you’ve found a place and moved in, it’s important to take a moment to take care of a few apartment safety tasks. Many apartment safety considerations aren’t obvious, especially if you’re moving into your first apartment.
But fear not—this guide to basic safety for your new apartment is exactly what you need. Here are the things you should take care of as soon as you move in.
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The electrical panel is the centre of your new apartment’s electrical system. If you’re not familiar, an electrical panel is a collection of breaker switches—safety devices that shut off power to a certain area of the home if an electrical circuit overloads.
Much of the time, the electrical panel in an apartment is located near the entrance. Look for a metal box in the wall with a door on it. You may also find it hidden inside a closet, or elsewhere. Look around—you can’t miss it.
It’s important to know where the panel is in case a breaker trips and shuts the lights off. You should also take a moment to ensure you know what each switch on the panel does. Each breaker switch is assigned to an electrical circuit. In an apartment, there likely aren’t too many switches—perhaps one for each room, with an additional switch for each large appliance (like ovens or dishwashers).
In many apartments, electrical panels aren’t labelled. If yours isn’t take a moment to do so. You can figure out what each breaker controls by turning on every light in the apartment and plugging in some lamps or digital clocks to the outlets. Then, turn off a breaker switch, take note of where the power is off, and label the switch accordingly.
Many things in your apartment are connected to the water supply—the sinks, the toilet, and the dishwasher or washing machine (if you’re lucky enough to have them). If any of these things starts spraying water when it shouldn’t be, you need to know how to shut that water off immediately.
Water damage can be catastrophic. Even overflow from a toilet can cause serious problems if the water isn’t stopped in time. While a renter isn’t necessarily responsible for repairing damage caused by burst pipes or overflowing sinks, it may necessitate finding a new place to live during the repairs. Water is also perfectly capable of damaging your belongings. It’s best to avoid water damage in the first place.
Houses generally have a master water shutoff, but many apartments will not. Instead, you should find a water shutoff valve under each sink in the apartment, as well as behind the toilet. If you have a dishwasher, chances are it’s connected to the water supply under the kitchen sink, where it may have its own shutoff valve. Similarly, an in-suite laundry machine will have a water valve somewhere nearby.
Take note of each shutoff valve throughout the apartment. If water is flowing when it shouldn’t be, shut off the appropriate valve immediately—don’t hesitate, as it’s easy to turn back on later.
For added security, buy a few cheap leak detection alarms.
These little devices cost about $20 each. Place one under each sink, and one near each major water appliance (dishwashers and washing machines). The leak detectors will sound if any of these places start to get wet.
Speaking of alarms…
One of the most important safety devices in any home is the smoke detector. Your new apartment should have at least one, probably near (but not in) the kitchen.
As soon as you’ve moved into the apartment, give the smoke detector a test. Just press the button on the detector until it makes a loud noise. That means it’s functional.
Most apartment buildings have hardwired smoke alarms, which means they don’t need batteries to function. They may have battery backups, however. In any case, if your smoke detector isn’t working, inform your landlord and have them fix it immediately.
You should test your smoke detector approximately once per month.
Fire extinguishers aren’t generally included with apartment rentals. Nevertheless, you should absolutely have one near the kitchen—after all, the kitchen is basically one giant fire hazard, even for seasoned home cooks.
Fire safety is especially crucial when you’re just moving in. If you’ve temporarily stacked a few boxes on the stovetop, they’re one bumped knob away from a serious fire.
Even once you’re settled, you need to be ready to handle kitchen fires. When cooking oil or fat catches fire, you can’t put it out with water—you need a fire extinguisher. If you dump water on a grease fire, it won’t put it out. In fact, it’s more likely to make the situation worse, as the water causes the flaming oil to sputter and spread flames across the kitchen.
So, before you try cooking, make sure your new apartment has a fire extinguisher. Once you do, find a place for it close to—but not inside—the kitchen. If your fire extinguisher is in the kitchen, there’s a chance that you wouldn’t be able to get to it during a fire, defeating the purpose of having one.
And here’s an apartment grill safety tip: If you do have a grill on your balcony, you should have second fire extinguisher close at hand there, too.
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When you move into your apartment, take some time to learn the emergency escape routes. In the chaos of an emergency, you don’t want to be wondering whether you need to go left or right, up or down.
The apartment building should have maps posted throughout each floor that show the evacuation routes. If you can’t find such a map, figure out the quickest way to get outside from your apartment without using the elevator. That may be via the stairs, but it could also be through a window or balcony, or down a fire escape ladder.
Ideally, you’ll have at least two possible evacuation routes, so you have options depending on where the danger is.
Before you move into the new apartment, you should ask your landlord to change the locks. Otherwise, you have no way of knowing who out there might have keys to your home.
In some provinces, like BC, landlords are required to change locks between tenants upon request. Even if they aren’t, you should be willing to pay to have the locks changed if necessary. It’s not terribly expensive, and it’s one of the most important security tasks when you move into a new place. Of course, you do need your landlords permission to change the locks regardless of who covers the cost.
In addition to the standard keyed lock, you should ensure that your apartment door has a sturdy secondary lock, such as a deadbolt or chain. One way to check the quality of a lock is its ANSI rating. The ANSI grades are 1-3, with grade 1 being the best.
With your main door secure, make sure other possible methods of infiltration are secure, too. If your apartment is anywhere near the ground, your balcony door needs to be just as secure as the main entrance. Windows, too, are easy to access for ground-level apartments, so make sure your windows don’t slide open easily.
Not everyone likes being social, and introducing oneself to strangers isn’t always easy. Nevertheless, there are major security benefits to getting to know other residents in your building.
You don’t need to be best friends with your neighbours, but knowing their names and what they look like goes a long way to building trust and community. Buildings in which the residents know each other are much more secure, as people can look out for one another and easily identify suspicious strangers skulking around.
If you go away on holiday, a trusted neighbour can keep an eye on your home. That’s great for security, but also for things like keeping your plants alive.
Meeting your neighbours can be as easy as a quick “hello” or some small talk in the hallways. If your building has any communal areas, spend a little time there as well. You never know who you’ll meet. Some buildings also have Facebook groups (or something similar) for their residents.
When you’ve taken care of everything on this list for your new apartment, you’ll be in pretty good shape—but accidents happen.
That’s where tenant insurance can help. Tenant insurance, among other things, covers damage to your belongings. While your landlord is responsible for the building itself, their insurance won’t cover any of your possessions. If the apartment suffers a fire or some other disaster, at least you won’t have to worry about the cost of replacing your things.
Additionally, tenant insurance includes liability coverage, which will cover damages and legal costs if you’re legally liable for accidental damage or injury to a third party. And, tenant insurance also covers additional living expenses, or ALE. ALE coverage helps you with extra living expenses you incur if you have to move out of your apartment following another insured loss—like having to move after a fire.
You can get an online tenant insurance quote in as little as five minutes, and tenant insurance is typically not expensive.
Want to learn more? Visit our Renter resource centre for more tips and information about life as a renter. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.
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