What I Learned About Safety in My Very First NYC Apartment

06 02 2015

As part of SABRE's National Safety Month promotion giving special attention to home security, Jennifer Cassetta, self-defense expert, personal trainer, nutritionist (and so much more) is sharing her advice for apartment safety.

I signed my very first lease, without roommates, when I was about 24 years old. After college, I moved three times to different neighborhoods in New York City, each time with different friends. I lived in Soho and the edge of Spanish Harlem and I was finally ready to afford my own apartment in 2002. I found a studio on 15th street between 1st and 2nd Ave. for $1100 which just squeezed into my very tight budget!

There was the occasional cockroach sighting, bars on the windows, and I slept in a loft bed, but it was all mine! I felt reasonably safe except for the very close proximity to a methadone clinic and shady characters usually hanging outside of my building.

Luckily, I was raised by a man who served as a NYC police detective for twenty years and instilled in me a bit of security awareness. My dad checked out my apartment right away and made sure my door and windows were all secure as well as the entrance to the building. He didn’t approve that my apartment was on the first floor. I didn’t mind because there was a man on the second floor that pooped in the hallway (I can’t make this stuff up!).

One night when coming home from a party at 3 AM, some creep grabbed me (up my dress) on the street right in front of my apartment. Luckily, I had been training in Hapkido (a Korean martial art focused on self defense) and was able to scare off my attacker. After that incident, I got more serious about my martial arts training and my situational awareness.

I learned a lot, not only from that one experience but also from living on my own for the first time in general. Here goes:

  1. Never EVER EVER take your safety for granted. Always keep your head up, your phone away and your eyes and ears on high alert. We tend to get relaxed the closer we get to home. I had my phone to my ear listening to a voicemail when I was grabbed.
  2. Have your taxi or Uber drop you right in front of your building, not at the corner to save money or your Uber share partner from going around the block. The extra 2 or 3 dollars is worth your peace of mind.
  3. When looking for an apartment, never live on the ground floor. More roaches, more rats and more chances of a predator getting in the front door or windows.
  4. Choose your location wisely. Granted when starting out on your own, most likely your budget is not going to afford you your ideal apartment in the best neighborhood. Most deals are going to be in the “up and coming” neighborhoods that are still run down and may have higher crime rates. Check out the police blotters in your new perspective neighborhoods. They will list arrests and criminal events from the local precincts. Find out what are the highest percentage of crimes in the area so you can be more prepared. Are they home break-ins, car thefts, muggings or rape? Obviously, you’re going to try and avoid areas with higher murder, rape and mugging instances. Hopefully. (Google police blotter and your precinct number.)
  5. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have bought a SABRE Dorm/Apartment kit for $24.99 and rested much more easily at night. It comes with a personal alarm to hang on your keychain and use as a siren to ward off potential assailants, a window alarm that will sound if anyone tries to open or break the window, and a door wedge alarm to stick under your door when you go to sleep at night. If anyone tries to break in, the alarm will sound, give you time to call 911 and hopefully scare off your predator.

See also: Home Security Checklist