Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: How to take a vacation from your apartment

By Michelle Castillo  | March 2, 2011 - 2:42PM

Time to visit the family in California and enjoy a dose of good weather. This being New York, there are a few things to do before taking off, unless you enjoy coming back to a ransacked house, high bills (though no one was home) and leaks that need to be repaired immediately. I don’t.

Turn off everything 

Not just the lights, but also appliances. If you’re like me and use a power-surge protector, this is easy. If you have the option, you can also shut down sockets using the on/off/reset buttons located on your wall plates. 

Make sure that your stove’s pilot lights are on and not leaking gas, and that nothing—air coming through an open window, for example—can blow out the flame. Shut down the water supply to your toilet and sinks by turning the knobs on the pipes. That way, you won’t have to worry about leaks.

Lock up everywhere 

 If you have roommates, it might be worth investing in a safe to store the valuables that you can’t take along. Your housemates may be trustworthy, but you never know who might venture into your room when you aren’t around. You could pay for a safety deposit box, or you can find relatively inexpensive safes online.

One of the easiest ways for a burglar to enter your apartment is through a window. Make sure all fire escapes are pulled up, and windows are locked.

If your window locks are broken—and if you live in an old apartment, in particular, you should check—do the following:  Close the window.  In the middle of the bottom of the window frame, drill a hole through the frame and the window’s metal casing. Get a nail thin and long enough to fit in the newly drilled holes. Place it through. You just made it harder to open your window from the outside. For windows that slide side-to-side, buy a small wood dowel and cut it down so it fits inside the window track when the window is closed, preventing it from opening. 

Lock your front door, even if it automatically closes. I once locked myself out of my apartment and a helpful neighbor showed me how easy it was to open the door by swiping a Metro card over the lock between the doorframe and the door itself. Since then, I’ve dead bolted my door for extra protection.

Tell someone you’ll be gone

 If you don’t have a roommate, or someone coming over regularly to feed your turtle or cat, the post office normally will hold your mail (if given advance notice), so that your box isn’t overflowing—a sure sign that no one’s home. You can also tell a trustworthy friend. Leave him or her a key in case of an emergency so they don’t have to bust the door in to save the day.  

If you still subscribe to newspapers, call customer service to put the delivery on hold while you're away. (Note: Requests like these have been known to fall through the cracks, so it's still a good idea to ask a neighbor to bring in anything that winds up outside your door.)

Next: Tips on getting along with your roommate in a crowded shared space. 

Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's TechlandRental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.


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