No matter if home is an apartment building downtown, a townhome in the heart of the city, a quiet suburban block or a house set back from the road on a country lane, security systems can provide protection from unwanted intruders, package thieves or even wildlife lurking around your door. Security systems have grown in popularity over the recent years. Whereas, it used to be an elite service that could entail lengthy installation, paid monitoring and a long term relationship, nowadays, a security system can be as simple as putting up a wireless camera that hops right onto your Wifi.
Security systems do not always have to be harbingers of 'bad' information either. They can communicate positive information about events at your property, such as what time your kids entered the house from school and that they are safe, or what time the mail was delivered today.
With the all-around utility of security systems, they have grown greatly in popularity. More and more businesses and residences are installing these systems. The cost of acquiring a system has become more affordable to the masses too as more companies either provide the security system equipment and/or service.
Sometimes, in an apartment building, you may feel vulnerable in terms of security lapses. Due to the potentially large number of people who may be back and forth in an apartment's property, there are greater opportunities for 'bad' things to happen. Even if the apartment building has security, this is often limited to the lobby and some of the common areas. Such security rarely extends itself to your apartment door. Hence, the desire for a personal security system for apartment dwellers has grown in its individual appeal because it can fill the gap left by any security that does not extend itself to your individual apartment.
However, getting a security system for your apartment is not always as easy as if you were getting one for your home. Sometimes, the lease and/or landlord may not allow you to go through a major installation that will alter their property. Other times, perhaps you do not want to lose your security deposit because the security system required some permanent affixing that is going to violate your lease. Still, another impediment had been that traditional security systems required multi-year contracts and you are not even sure that you plan on staying past when your lease is up at the end of the year. But that still does not mean that you do not want the safety and security of a system until then.
What should you do? Well, in the following, we review what we found to be the top five options for apartment dweller security systems.
- Provider = SimpliSafe; Monitoring Price = $14.99-24.99/mo.; Contract Length = None; Details = View System
- Provider = Abode; Monitoring Price = $30/mo.; Contract Length = None; Details = View System
- Provider = Frontpoint; Monitoring Price = $34.99-49.99/mo.; Contract Length = 3 years; Details = View Plans
- Provider = Nest Secure Alarm System; Monitoring Price = $24.99-34.99/mo. (through MONI); Contract Length = None (Unless you select a MONI professional monitoring plan with a 3-year contract.); Details = View System
- Provider = Scout; Monitoring Price = $19.99/mo.; Contract Length = None; Details = View Plan
Desired Features for Apartment Security Systems
For renters, the best alarm systems have easy portability, DIY installation and are contract free.
Most landlords probably prefer that you don't do drilling of any sort into their walls. Your landlords would probably also be against you installing some complex security system that is difficult to uninstall. Add onto these items, the issue of your security deposit and how these installations may impact that. Also with the multiyear contract deals, moving before the contract is up could mean additional fees just to get out of the contract.
The multi-year contracts can be something that tie you in and tie you down. With the professional installation of a security system physically tying you into maintaining that same apartment. Again, breaking either of these provisions could mean you could incur some hefty fees.
However, most of the big contract carriers will allow you to go ahead and move, but with some relocation options and packages at additional costs. All told, these additional packages, fees and the like make these contractual security providers more expensive and complicated than the type of DIY systems that are highlighted in this article.
There are a lot of options for home automation nowadays. You might also want to have your home security system integrated into with any automation appliances being used throughout your apartment. Z-Wave and Zigbee are two Smart Home networks where integration with security systems is supported, allowing you to do things like control lights.
SimpliSafe is an established company in the DIY security space. Actually, it was one of the few companies to first offer no contracts as well. You can choose between two options: 1) professional system monitoring on a month to month basis or 2) no additional fee, loud sirens are included to help deter intruders.
We ranked SimpliSafe the best overall for renters. Its name says it all - - it truly is simple. SimpliSafe earned its best overall ranking from us for a number of reasons, including its affordability, the ease of installation and the fact that it works well. The pricing is transparent and straightforward so there's no guesswork about what the charges are. It also offers a range of equipment that allows you to choose which items you want and those that you don't.
One element that we did not like was that in order to use your mobile phone or device to control the security system, then you have to subscribe to SimpliSafe’s most expensive monitoring plan. Other providers, like Abode and Nest, allow you to have mobile app access without a paid monitoring plan.
All of the providers we have reviewed are relatively inexpensive system providers, including SimpliSafe. At approximately $215, SimpliSafe offers their most basic system, which includes:
- 1 base station central command
- 1 wireless keypad controller
- 1 keychain remote
- 2 entryway sensors
For comparison basis, Vivint’s basic equipment package (another security system provider) costs $549. It is easy to see the savings that SimpliSafe offers with this $300+ difference.
Other larger providers, like Protect America, offer a free basic system if you sign up for their monitoring contract. While this can be an initial savings, these companies make their true revenue from the monthly service fee that customers pay. (This is similar to a cell phone service provider that offers a free phone so that you pay their monthly fee on a long term basis.) These security system providers will also usually make you to sign up for a contractual period up to five years. Early termination fees apply if you attempt to exit the contract early. These penalty fees can be quite expensive too.
With SimpliSafe, you do not have to opt for the monitoring service. But the security system is limited to just performing monitoring services and will not have that emergency responder interface.
SimpliSafe has a non-monitoring service alarm, which is basically a loud siren that attempts to frighten off intruders who may trip the sensors. Again, there will be no emergency responder interfacing with this package (i.e., your SimpliSafe system will not call the police).
Plan=Standard; Monthly Fee=$14.99; Mobile Access=No
Plan=Interactive; Monthly Fee=$24.99; Mobile Access=Yes
For us, the lack of mobile access with the standard package was a major drawback, even though the SimpliSafe system was our best overall pick. Most people with mobile devices like the ease and convenience of how their devices integrate into other elements of their lives. We wish that SimpliSafe made that functionality available across all of its plans, but it doesn’t unless you subscribe to its top monitoring plan. Otherwise, you are left doing self-monitoring of your system without the mobile app control.
All-in-all, SimpliSafe’s premier plan is relatively inexpensive and might be worth the investment if you want that additional monitoring. Subscribing to this plan will also give you that mobile access too.
With SimpliSafe’s basic, utilitarian equipment package, you get a security system for a pretty low price. Overall, both the equipment and monitoring prices are less than larger providers, like ADT. Also, the SimpliSafe service is very reliable.
In the SimpliSafe security system, the main unit is known as the base station. The base station acts as the system’s ‘brain’ and does the communication with the system’s sensors, triggering an alarm if the sensors detect movement.
Ideally, you should place the base station out of view since it is the main piece of equipment for the security system. The base station is not battery operated and has to have a constant power supply by being plugged into a wall outlet. You just do not want any intruder to see the base unit and be able to disable your apartment’s security system.
In addition to being just a security system, the SimpliSafe package offers an array of sensors, including smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Additional sensors are easy to obtain. You can simply order additional sensors if you need more than what comes in the base package in order to adequately protect your apartment.
The SimpliSafe system uses its keypad for arming/disarming the system. It requires a code to operate, so that adds an additional layer of security.
With SimpliSafe, security system installation is pretty simple, using place-and-stick DIY installation of the sensors. Everything is included in the box and you do all the installing yourself. Simply pick where you want to place the sensors and keypad. (Typically, installing the sensors near the doors and windows, with the keypad near the entryway, are good.)
Removal of the system is easy too. Whenever you move, just peel-and-pull the pieces down and take them to your new apartment.
SimpliSafe only offers one security camera, called the SimpliCam. The SimpliCam is a basic, wireless, indoor camera. It is relatively inexpensive at $99 too.
- Heat signature based motion detectors
- Sends instant alerts when motion is detected
- Live video feed viewable from your computer or mobile device
- Night vision features
- Wi-Fi enabled
With the SimpliCam you get a quality HD feed and good audio quality. Unlike the mobile control associated with its security system, SimpliSafe does not charge extra for video support. The SimpliCam auto-alerts on your phone and live video feed are free.
There is a video storage option. For $5/month, you can store any digital footage and video clips for later viewing.
The SimpliSafe security system offers different equipment selections as add-on options to build the version of the system that works best for you. Add-ins include additional sensors, carbon monoxide detectors and a SimpliCam camera. Simple and easy installation, as well as simple to use, characterize this security package.
Abode is a newer security industry offering, but its creators are rumored to be former ADT executives. A Kickstarter fundraising campaign brainchild, it was officially offered in 2015. It was based on the premise of making a DIY-installation style, high-tech security system that offered no contracts or other binding, long term commitments.
Abode delivers on the hi-tech portion. Still, the system is fairly simple to use, even though its devices are “smart” technology. With Abode, the motion detectors can take photos (a nice feature) and its indoor cameras are inconspicuous, so you pretty much can discreetly set them anywhere within your apartment.
The SimpliSafe system offers a wider equipment array than Abode, but Abode is a little more technologically advanced. The SimpliSafe system is less expensive also.
One drawback with Abode was that its basic equipment starter pack did not include a keypad and the monthly fee for professional monitoring was a bit on the high end compared to equivalent security systems.
The price for the basic Abode security equipment is comparable to that of the Scout or Frontpoint systems, but less than Nest. However, Abode add-on equipment is a bit pricey. The standard equipment might be sufficient if you are just covering a couple of your apartment’s main entry points.
- 1 Gateway/hub
- 2 entry sensors
- 1 motion detector, with camera
- 1 fob (key)
In terms of professional monitoring, Abode offers something unheard of: on-demand professional monitoring! With the purchase of just their basic equipment package, Abode gives you truly on-demand options with their professional monitoring. You can select to have monitoring for a few days at a time and at a very low price too.
If you want some limited monitoring, you can request it on-demand without having to sign up for either a full month of service or some other contract.
Plan name = Basic; 3-day monitoring = $7; 7-day monitoring = $15; Monthly price = Free
Plan name = Connect; 3-day monitoring = $7; 7-day monitoring = $15; Monthly price = $10
With Abode’s Connect plan, you get additional benefits like a backup option for its hub (Abode’s hub is called the Gateway), along with 14 days of media storage – hence, this is where the monthly subscription pricing comes in. Abode’s minimal support plan lets you buy the on-demand, short period of time professional monitoring.
If you select the monthly plan, then that is where Abode’s pricing can get more expensive. Both Scout and SimpliSafe offer cheaper monitoring plans than Abode. However, Abode’s plans are less expensive than the Nest or Frontpoint options.
Plan name = Connect + Secure; Monthly price = $30; Annual Price = $240; Professional monitoring = 24/7
By choosing the annual plan, you save $10 a month. This savings makes the price similar to that of SimpliSafe and Scout. However, the annual commitment makes it like a year-long contract, thus, defeating the non-contractual element.
Like the SimpliSafe and Scout systems, Abode has a main hub which is used to communicate with the sensors and to control the system. Abode’s hub is called “the Gateway.” Like Scout’s hub, it has Smart Home functionality with Zigbee and Z-Wave features. This is great if you want to integrate other smart home devices.
With the Abode system, you can mostly control it from your smartphone, but there is also a key fob for this as well. Unlike Scout’s security system, Abode does have a keypad so that eases your apartment entrance without fumbling for the key fob or having to use your phone. However, the keypad is not included in Abode’s equipment starter kit. You have to purchase it separately for $79.
You can skip the keypad by using your smartphone or key fob exclusively. But it is a nice option to have the keypad, and an even better option if it was included in the basic equipment package.
Abode’s motion sensors were impressive. They don’t just sense motion, they will also take photos of whatever is causing the motion. This is a nice feature of the sensors and helps you to sort out false alarms vs. real areas of concern.
The combined motion sensor/camera gives you the benefits of having an indoor camera without actually having to purchase an additional camera. A price saving aspect for sure, but also less invasive within your apartment space.
As noted above, since Abode has the motion sensor/camera combo, you might not want an additional indoor camera. But if you do have the need (like for monitoring pets, etc.), there is an additional camera option.
While most home security cameras use your Wifi network, Abode’s cameras allow an ethernet connection as well. Ethernet connections are hard wired and are seen as being more secure and reliable than just Wifi, so this is a nice option to have.
The Abode camera system offers a HD video feed. A nice feature of its camera is that if the motion detector is triggered, it can show you video from immediately before, during and after the alert.
A storage option is available. To store media footage, you have to add-on Abode’s Connect plan at $10/month.
Overall, Abode has impressive hi-tech equipment and offers flexibility with its on-demand monitoring. A close runner-up in our overall rankings, the only reason Abode did not come in as our overall best option was price. That said, if you are a fan of tech and the extra cost is worth it to you, then the Abode system is an excellent option.
With the Frontpoint security system, you get GE manufactured, standard security equipment and it requires you to sign a contract. The contract aspect makes it work more like traditional providers (e.g., ADT).
Despite the contractual requirement, we still included Frontpoint on our list because the company has received many reviews for its excellent customer service. Good customer service is always a good thing, but it also makes it easier when having to move and you want to relocate your service as well.
With Frontpoint, you self-install the system with the DIY peel and stick simplicity of the other systems. This means no waiting around for professional installation or removal (when moving). Plus, no drilling means no concerns regarding your security deposit due to damage in your walls.
Frontpoint’s monitoring plan was the most expensive on our list, so that would mean a bigger monthly bill than the others.
Frontpoint Monitoring Plans
Plan name = Protection; Monthly price = $34.99; Details = View Plans
Plan name = Interactive; Monthly price = $44.99; Details = View Plans
Plan name = Ultimate; Monthly price = $49.99; Details = View Plans
As mentioned already, Frontpoint has a contract requirement. They require a three-year commitment. However, by doing the contract, you get a big discount off their equipment pricing.
Frontpoint Pet/Safe Start Equipment Package:
- 1 control panel
- 4 motion sensors
- 1 glass disturbance detector
Reduced price (based on the contract add-on): $99.95
When you’re just starting to build your home security system, the equipment cost can be burdensome. Therefore, the three-year commitment discount might be something to consider.
The Frontpoint equipment is not flashy or super hi-tech, but it does the job. There are two control panel options: 1) a standard or 2) a touchscreen (the touch screen upgrade costs a little extra).
Most people may use their smartphone with their security system anyway. Thus, having the touchscreen might not really matter anyway.
Whichever control panel you opt for, Frontpoint offers Smart Home automation. The Frontpoint system is compatible with Z-Wave for its Smart Home integration, therefore, any Z-Wave compatible device can be used or connect to your Amazon Alexa for additional options.
It depends on your apartment and personal preference, but Z-Wave products may be in limited use in apartments (like smart locks). Controlling things like smart lights via technology is a convenient and nice feature.
With Frontpoint, there are both internal and external security cameras available. There are also Skybell doorbell cameras.
The wireless indoor cameras are a nice option and easily portable. The doorbell cam is also a nice option, but you may need your landlord’s approval for installation though.
Frontpoint has simplified the purchasing and installation process, making it easy to get up and going with a top industry-standard security system. We would have liked to have seen more technological features stand out though.
From the onset, the thing that stands out to you with the Scout security system is that it has style. Stylish and attractive, the equipment is definitely well designed and aesthetically pleasing. Scout is available via online ordering. The DIY installation is simple and easy. However, the system works a little differently from the other systems reviewed here. Sometimes, the other systems were a little more user friendly in our opinion.
Comparatively speaking, Scout offered the cheapest professional monitoring of all the systems on our list (except for SimpliSafe). The system is Smart Home compatible, working with Z-Wave and Zigbee. So you can go full smart home integration no matter which connection type you may have.
The Scout system is an affordable package. For $158, the least expensive configuration involves the hub and one entry sensor.
Typically, you will want more equipment than just the basic package. You will want enough equipment for proper monitoring of your main entry, any windows and any other external doors.
- 1 controller Hub
- 1 main control panel (including two portable key fobs and one access sticker)
- 3 sensors
With Scout, the equipment is not the cheapest amongst the systems we are reviewing. However, you only need but so much of it in order to have a functional system.
Unlike SimpliSafe, Scout requires a professional monitoring plan with its system. The monitoring plan, however, lets the system act as an alarm. Fortunately, the Scout monitoring plans are inexpensive.
Plan = Always On; Monthly price = $9.99; Monitoring type = Self
Plan = Always On +; Monthly price = $19.99; Monitoring type = Professional
While we aren’t too happy that you have to buy a plan for mobile app access to be enabled, Scout’s cheapest plan does at least give you mobile access and control. This was unlike SimpliSafe’s plan.
With the Scout system, the Hub is the center of operations. The Hub runs off of your Wi-Fi but also uses an Ethernet connection and gets plugged into your existing router or modem. Once plugged up and via the Hub, the Scout system communicates with the various sensors.
Like with SimpliSafe’s version of the Hub, ideally, you want the Hub to be inconspicuous. You would not want an intruder to easily find it. Hiding the Hub is easy enough if your router or modem is already set aside and out of view within your apartment. Having your router, and by extension the Scout Hub, right by your apartment’s main entryway might be a little too conspicuous.
Using the mobile app gives you the option of skipping use of the stickers and key fobs. You just have to always keep up with your phone or key fob though.
Overall, you probably would have either your keys or your phone with you anyway. One drawback though is that it means everyone needing access needs to have an individual sticker in lieu of a user code.
We believe that the keypad option is easier overall, and perhaps, easier for the customer. This is especially true in order to avoid having to give a sticker to everyone.
Scout offers three types of sensors:
Unlike the other systems we reviewed, Scout does not offer extras like smoke detectors or carbon monoxide sensors. The door and window sensors, along with the motion detectors, provide important parts of any security system. However, chances are that you would not install smoke detectors in your rented apartment in most instances. (This is usually required of your landlord.)
Unfortunately, Scout does not have any security camera offerings with its system. If you truly want cameras, Scout can use Nest Cams pretty seamlessly. Even though it is not official Scout equipment, you can still view HD video and receive system notifications from the Nest cameras via the Scout app.
It would be nice if the Scout system offered a keypad option. If the keypad option was available, Scout would place higher on the list of products reviewed. All-in-all, Scout’s system is easy to order, install and operate.
Nest has been getting good press with its security cameras and “learning” thermostat for many years. Now, Nest has expanded its product offerings to include their security system. Already familiar with other Nest products, we welcomed the company’s offering of a full alarm system.
The Nest system combines a keypad and a key fob option - - this was something that we really liked. Also, the system has its door/window sensors combined with the motion detectors. This eliminates the need for double the amount of equipment since you only need one piece of equipment that performs both purposes.
In terms of pricing, the Nest system is expensive. More expensive than our other systems, you’ll pay a significantly higher price for equivalent value.
For us, the hefty price tag was why the Nest system was ranked lower. The most basic package for Nest costs $499.
Nest Starter/Basic Package
- 1 Nest Guard
- 2 Entry sensors/motion detectors (Nest Detects)
- 2 fobs (key)
Again, the price tag of Nest seemed expensive for the amount of equipment included. The basic starter pack’s equipment would probably be sufficient for a small apartment at those prices. All of our other system providers offer more equipment at a lower price.
If you already have other Nest products, then you are already within the Nest ‘universe’ and probably love it. In this case, you may want to invest in their security system. Overall, Nest ranked last due to the sole reason of its price. We are not sure the amount of equipment you receive truly justifies the Nest pricing.
With the Nest system, you have two monitoring options: 1) you can do free self-monitoring with the mobile app, or 2) you can select their professional monitoring for a monthly fee. With Nest, their professional monitoring option is offered through a third party security provider, MONI.
Nest Professional Monitoring Plans with MONI
Plan = Option #1; Monthly Price = $24.99; Contract = 3 years
Plan = Option #2; Monthly Price = $34.99; Contract = None
With the professional monitoring plans, you get a $10/month discount when you enter a three-year contract with MONI. If not, the price is $34.99/month, while still paying more for the equipment. (This plan pricing is the same as Frontpoint.)
The Nest equipment is stylish and well designed. With this system, its hub is called a Nest Guard and it is used for arming/disarming your system. The Nest Guard also controls the sensor communications.
The Nest Guard is easy to get up and going with. Just plug it in near your main entryway/door and it is up and going. You can arm/disarm it by simply swiping the key fob or by typing in a code - - it’s your option. We like the ability to arm/disarm with both, this was something Scout didn’t offer.
The Nest entry sensor, is called Nest Detect. Nest Detect is a really impressive piece of equipment. It’s a sensor/motion detector combined. This means it can tell both when your door or window is opened, as well as detect any motion inside a room.
The Nest security system is simple and offers just the two types of equipment along with a key fob. The Nest app allows you to control the system through mobile access for free (i.e., whether or not you sign up for professional monitoring). Remember, Scout and SimpliSafe charge for this same type of access.
Like all the other security systems reviewed, Nest offers DIY installation. You can order the system online and do the set up yourself. With Nest and the limited amount of equipment pieces, it is very easy to install and uninstall whenever you move.
Nest offers both indoor and outdoor cameras. The company also has plans for a doorbell cam soon, called Nest Hello.
Again, if you already have Nest products, then the security system is a fitting addition to your overall Nest system. It does come at that higher Nest price though.
While Nest offers great and smart technology, we think Nest is far too expensive for the equipment you get. We look forward to seeing how the system grows and develops with new product additions in the future.
Best Apartment Security Systems—Summary
- For apartments and renters, the best systems have no long-term contracts, low monthly subscription rates/fees and DIY installation.
- SimpliSafe gives you a nice range of inexpensive equipment with their system, but you will have to pay the higher monthly monitoring fees for mobile app use of the system.
- Abode offers very innovative equipment at reasonable prices, but there is an extra charge for the keypad - - a major drawback in our minds.
- Frontpoint has good and well-reviewed customer support available, along with excellent discounts for equipment, but a 3-year contract is required. Frontpoint also has higher monthly monitoring prices.
- Scout has stylish and well-designed equipment that delivers a unique user experience, but we think that a regular keypad would be easier.
- Nest offers you the Nest brand of quality products, including their button-less entry and keypad option. While its equipment is well designed, innovative and smart, it is very expensive too.