Home security 101: New Yorkers' biggest fears and best tips for staying safe

By Leigh Kamping-Carder  | November 18, 2014 - 8:59AM

You may have heard: New York City is safer than it used to be. But that doesn't mean New Yorkers are living fearlessly. (Let's be real—it's still a city.) We asked locals to fill out a survey, sharing their safety concerns and strategies, and they came up with some surprising results. 

Overall, a faulty lock on the building's front door brings on the agita the most. When locks are broken and buzzers don't work—a surprisingly common scenario for renters in non-doorman buildings, per our survey—it's harder to keep the entrance secure against people you don't want coming inside. As far as (hopefully) irrational fears go, the possibility of a building collapse was top of mind. ("This questionnaire just made me realize how crappy my apartment is," says one.) But that old lesson from kindergarten about safety in numbers? Turns out, apartment dwellers still put stock in it. "My neighborhood is always teeming with people and I rarely feel unsafe in the area or in my building," notes one resident. An attended lobby can fulfill the same function: "Having a doorman gives you a real (possibly false?) sense of security," says one native New Yorker. "For me it puts my mind at ease."

Below, some particular fears (and coping mechanisms):


"My biggest fear is being followed into the building, or my daughter being followed in, as well as people who pretend to be delivery people trying to get buzzed into the building. My concern  is more around the possibility of violent crime rather than theft." —​Jane, Upper West Side

"Our front door buzzer is broken a lot, which is really frustrating, especially because it's really obvious to anyone within like 25 feet of the door—it makes a loud ringing sound when unlocked [alerting passers-by that the door is wide open], sometimes for hours or days. The management company keeps fixing it for a bit, and then it breaks again." —​Emma, Sunnyside 

"It used to be that our front door could be picked easily with a Metrocard or just kicked in, but now that that's been fixed I'd say [my biggest apartment fear] is the fact that I've come home twice to find that a roommate left the toaster oven on and smoking." —​Liz, Fort Greene

"Security. The front door doesn't double lock and often doesn't close fully. About half the time I come home, it's open a crack." —​Teresa, Bushwick

"I have some fear of opening the door to my building one night and finding a guy with a gun inside...." —​Greg, Fort Greene

"There were eight months when the front door had no lock. And several months were the lock would work but people would push in the Plexi[glass] panel by the handle to open the door. It's a 30-unit building with a lot of large families with a lot of people always coming through. I tried bugging the super and management about it, but it's an income sensitive building that management could care less about and I've since learned to just be grateful for cheap rent." —​Brittany, Williamsburg

"I have a doorman and live on the relatively sleepy Upper East Side, so I don't worry too much about break-ins, but I worry about someone else in the building being careless and causing a fire." Lucy, Yorkville

(Photo credit: bettyx1138)


"Every once in a while there's blood smeared in the foyer from some drunk idiot. But maybe it's not that irrational to be concerned about blood." —​Brittany, Williamsburg [Editor's note: while a connection between a drunk person and blood isn't necessarily obvious, we're going to assume these folks are getting themselves injured in their inebriated state.]

"Burning to death—recurring dream." —John, Crown Heights

"That the ancient walls might one day fall down." Kara, West Village

"I’ve left the front door unlocked accidentally and when I realize what I’ve done, I go around looking in closets and under beds for someone who might be hiding there, no doubt waiting 'til we’re sleeping to kill us!" Jen, East Village

"Probably that our building is going to collapse, but then again, seeing as our floor has about a two-inch slope in 14 feet, maybe it's not that irrational after all." —​Liz, Fort Greene

"I have this fear that the ceiling in our bedroom will collapse while we're sleeping, and our upstairs neighbors' bed will land on top of us and, you know, kill us. It may not be completely irrational, though—the ceiling in one of our upstairs neighbors' apartments partially collapsed a few years ago." —​Greg, Fort Greene

"[My most irrational fear is] that my air conditioner is going to fall out of my window. Maybe that's rational, though." —​Teresa, Bushwick

"People with bad intentions climbing up the fire escape and into my bedroom window." ​Lis, South Williamsburg

"The electrical wiring in this building is so old. I saw some crumbly wires when we replaced some of our outlets. There's never been a fire, and they say it's all perfectly safe. But I don't know." ​Mayra, Harlem

"I live on the second floor, and there is a door to the terrace in my bedroom as well as my roommate's. My irrational fear is that someone will somehow get into my apartment through the door on the terrace. It's irrational because the workers put bars on the outside of the door, to prevent anyone from coming in or going out. It still creeps me out sometimes." —​Shipra, Murray Hill


"Once a couple years ago I came home and the front door to the building was busted open. Someone had clearly just shoved it and broken the lock. Maybe because it was 2 a.m. or because I'd heard of other break-ins in the neighborhood, that especially freaked me out. ... I actually called the cops—and they came! They went through the building, of course everything was fine, and they said someone probably just came home drunk and shouldered their way in. They said that happens a lot." Kara, West Village

"One year the night before Thanksgiving some random dudes I'd never seen before decided to have a party in the stairwell with a hookah and were chugging vodka with KoolAid at 8pm. It's the only time I've ever called the cops on someone." Brittany, Williamsburg

"In my old apartment in Harlem, one of my roommates came home to find a stranger, who appeared to be homeless, sleeping in his bed. He escorted him out without much incident, though. I wasn't there at the time." Greg, Fort Greene

(Photo credit: Eelke)


"If someone says they're trying to deliver something, I always ask them to tell me the full name on the package. If they just know my last name, that's not good enough because they can read that on the intercom panel outside the building." —​Jane, Upper West Side

"I'll ignore the buzzer if I'm not specifically expecting a delivery of some sort. I figure my roommate will get it if she ordered food or groceries. Usually it's just someone buzzing the wrong apartment, and they'll figure it out on their own." —Alice, Bushwick

"We have an intercom, and video surveillance in the building, which we can stream on our TV and smartphones, so we can see who is outside. Unexpected buzzes are almost always package deliveries. If I can't see who is on their way up, I don't buzz them in. And I always know when friends are on their way anyway." —​Mayra, Harlem

"I use the intercom to see who it is, even though the door to our apartment is only a few feet from the door to our building. I almost always end up going to the building door, though, out of politeness. I'd feel bad if I rejected the kind entreaties of Jehovah's Witnesses by intercom." —Greg, Fort Greene

"My intercom doesn't work—old, old, old building—so the person is always a mystery. I never answer the buzzer unless I know I'm expecting a package or Seamless guy or friend." —Kara, West Village

"We don't have a buzzer, but whenever somebody knocks I panic and don't let them in, just because we're on the first floor and you never know." Liz, Fort Greene


"There was a brief period where the upstairs people had an actor subletting and I called the cops after hearing what I thought was someone getting brutally thrown around and beaten up. Turns out it was 'improv.'  Cool, thanks for the heads up before screaming "HELP ME PLEASE GOD" and throwing yourself on the floor repeatedly!" Liz, Fort Greene

"We had a big alcoholic neighbor who could be verbally abusive and threatening. We complained to the [co-op] board but nothing really happened. He eventually started spending most of his time at his weekend house and we don't really see him anymore." Jane, Upper West Side


"Sometimes [when I'm accepting a delivery] I'll keep my phone in my hand, maybe as some sort of warning signal. When it comes to repairs, it's usually more awkward than scary to let the plumber or Time Warner Cable guy in and have to hang around expectantly while they do their job. Bad small talk is my ultimate fear. At least now I know a lot about drains and modems." —Kara, West Village

"I don't worry about my safety in these situations just because I figure delivery people won't jeopardize their jobs with sketchy behavior. I think I'd feel the same way about a repair person, but I actually haven't had to have any repairs done in the time I've lived in my apartment." —Alice, Bushwick

"I'm not at all worried about the delivery people/repair people once I verify that they're legit, i.e. asking for full name when they buzz if I'm not expecting them." Jane, Upper West Side

"I have a large dog." Brittany, Williamsburg

"Usually just keep the door ajar when FreshDirect delivery people come in. I figure I don't want to be in an enclosed space with someone I don't know." Lucy, Yorkville

"I'll either have a roommate around, or be sure to text someone right when repairman arrives before I let them in and ask them to check in after 20 minutes or so." Liz, Fort Greene

"[Rather than let them into my apartment] I often meet the delivery men halfway on the stairs between the first floor and the second, where my apartment is. Or, I just go down and meet them directly at the front door." Teresa, Bushwick

(Photo credit: hobvias sudoneighm)


"Sometimes I ask them what apartment they are going to and on occasion I have left them in the vestibule and told them they had to buzz the person they are visiting to get in." —Jen, East Village

"We don't have a doorman and the first building rule is: If you are in the lobby, or are entering the building, you don't let strangers in. Even if you know they happen to be friends with somebody in the building, they must wait outside until they are buzzed in. Second rule: once you enter the building, you have to stand by the door until the automatic door shuts-  and make sure it's locked shut. Some people don't do any of that. ... One time, a female resident was followed into the building by some man, who accosted her and demanded her money. Lucky for her, other residents showed up and the would-be robber fled the scene. We have a panic button in the lobby, but what if she couldn't get to it?" —Mayra, Harlem

"To get into my charming-yet-dilapidated apartment building, you have to go down about four steps underground-ish to enter the first front door, then there's a tiny vestibule and another door which is locked. A few weeks ago around 8 or 9 at night, I walked down the steps, entered the first door, checked my mail in the vestibule, and was about to go through the second one when I heard someone trying the handle at the first door. I could only see the top of a head—he was obviously tall, and a guy, and not saying anything. So that freaked me out. He asked to be let in and I said awkwardly, 'No, uhh, sorry, uhh, do you have a key?' Because I didn't want to be trapped in a four-foot wide space with some rando. Well, turns out he did have a key—he found it after a few seconds, and then once we were in the building, he got pissy at me for not letting him in, saying 'Yeah, you've seen me around, but whatever, that's fine, that's fine.' And huffed his way to his apartment. But, I'm sorry, 1) I've never seen him before in my life, 2) It's not that hard to put a key in a lock and 3) I couldn't see his face when he was just standing outside the front door, silently and menacingly. Asshole!" —Kara, West Village

"I politely tell them it is building policy NOT to let anybody into the building and that I would get into trouble if I did let them in. If they insist, I tell them there are cameras everywhere and people who have a security camera streaming on their TVs or phone constantly, so I'd be busted for breaking the house rules. Most people accept this without question. One time, however, I was accused by some guy of being a racist for not letting him into the building. He turned out to be a friend of a resident. The building told that resident he needs to inform his guests of our security policy." Mayra, Harlem

"I pretty much let them in. It feels rude not to, and my building is big enough with enough turnover that I don't always recognize who lives there and who doesn't." Emma, Sunnyside

"I usually ask who it is before letting them in. If it's a delivery person, and I didn't order anything, I'll just say that and won't buzz them in." Emma, Sunnyside


"[I do] but only because my roommate gets very anxious about it." Alice, Bushwick

"It locks automatically, so yes." Emma, Sunnyside

"Always. ... Not locking your apartment is fucking crazy!!!  What on earth are you losing by locking it?!!!  Also, everyone in this city should get renters' insurance." Liz, Fort Greene

"Only the bottom lock. If I remember, I deadbolt at night." Jane, Upper West Side

"At night, I'll chain and bolt the door. When I'm home during the day, I generally just bolt the door. When my roommate and I leave for the day, we don't bolt the door behind us, it just locks automatically." Shipra, Murray Hill


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