Childproofing Tips for Renters
Time to childproof your home? If you’re a renter, your lease may limit certain modifications that may be necessary for childproofing. But being a good tenant and a good parent don’t have to be mutually exclusive. These eight tips can help you protect both your child and your security deposit.
Try to Start With a Safe RentalAlthough it’s not always possible, try to look for a child-safe property to move into before you have children. “We recommend parents educate themselves on what safety features to look for and what questions to ask landlords before they select a place to live,” says home and community safety expert Amy Artuso, program manager at the National Safety Council. Some things to consider when you’re shopping for a rental include the type of window coverings in the home (cordless window coverings are preferred) and the home’s age (properties built before 1978 may have lead paint, particularly around staircases, windows and door frames), says Artuso. Look for working smoke detectors on every level of the living space and outside each bedroom. Make sure there’s a fire extinguisher present, confirm when it was last checked and don’t forget to learn how to use it — before an emergency occurs. Artuso also suggests asking a potential landlord if he might be willing to make childproofing allowances. An inflexible landlord might be a sign you should keep looking. “Ask which safety devices are allowed for childproofing,” she says. “Not if, but which.”
Fortify Your FurnitureTo kids, a bookshelf is never just a bookshelf. It’s also a jungle gym, a ladder and a step stool. In fact, every 24 minutes tipped furniture or a falling television injures a child and sends him to the emergency room, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). For that reason, it’s important to anchor furniture — such as flat-screen televisions, chests and bureaus — to the wall to help keep it from tipping over and causing injury. You should even anchor furniture that you don’t perceive as top-heavy, says Colleen Driscoll, executive director of the International Association for Child Safety. For instance, Driscoll notes that you may not view a dresser with socks in the top drawer and jeans in the bottom drawer as top-heavy, but when one of the drawers is opened, the center of gravity changes, creating a potential tipping risk. “You really can’t avoid drilling into a wall in this case, so I would encourage parents to talk to their landlord and seek permission to drill for the safety of their child if their lease prohibits it,” Driscoll advises. “Imagine the diameter of a screw; the screw hole you would have from furniture restraint would be pretty small — no different, really, than a nail hole from hanging a picture. When you move out, you can offer to patch the holes and repaint. The key message is that furniture should be anchored. Even if the family is charged a fee to repair a wall when they move out, it will be well worth it for their child’s safety.”
Install Safety GatesIf there are areas in your home that are dangerous for children, such as a flight of stairs, you’ll need a baby gate to help keep curious kids at bay. Driscoll says parents typically have two options: hard-mounted gates that screw into the wall and pressure-mounted gates that don’t. The latter are fine for use in doorways with solid wood frames, she says. If you’re worried about damage to your rental, however, the former are actually a better choice in hallways with drywall, as pressure-mounted gates may leave significant scuffs and dents compared to hard-mounted gates, which will likely only leave a few discreet holes that can be easily patched and repainted later, Driscoll adds. At the tops of stairs, pressure-mounted gates are impractical and unsafe because children could push them down the stairs. If drilling into a banister isn’t an option, Driscoll recommends using a hardware-mounted gate with clamps for the banister posts.
Clasp Your CabinetsCabinet and drawer locks are necessary to help keep children from accessing cleaners and other dangerous household items within their reach. Although many models require screwing into cabinetry, renters can avoid drilling holes into fixtures with alternatives such as adhesive locks, according to Driscoll. She recommends internal rather than external adhesive locks, such as magnetic cabinet locks that are mounted inside the cabinet and unlatched using a magnetic “key.” “If you put an adhesive latch on the outside of a cabinet, a kid is probably going to just pull it right off,” she says. Another mar-free option is a handle lock that installs on cabinet knobs or handles. “These can definitely be appealing, but they don’t lock themselves, so it’s really important to remember to reinstall them every time you open the cabinet,” Driscoll says. Ultimately, the most renter-friendly solution may also be the best: moving hazards to higher ground. “Eventually, industrious kids are going to figure out cabinet latches,” she says.
Block Your BalustersIf your rental has stairs, balconies or railings these can all be safety hazards. To help prevent children from falling through or getting trapped in the space between balusters, Driscoll recommends purchasing a banister guard — a plastic barrier that can be cut to fit your banister and installed with zip ties to help limit property damage.
Obstruct Your OutletsInstead of outlet caps, which can be pulled out, swallowed and choked on, Driscoll recommends replacing standard outlet plates with sliding outlet covers, which can be installed cheaply and easily removed when you move out, causing little to no damage to your rental. “If something’s plugged in all the time,” she says, “you’ll want to get an outlet plug cover.” This covers the plugs in the outlet and can be removed so you can get access to the outlet.
Don't Forget Common AreasIf you live in an apartment, condo or townhome, you should pay attention not only to your unit, but also to common areas such as lobbies, hallways, stairwells, parking lots, playgrounds and pools. While these areas typically are beyond the control of individual tenants, you should look for potential hazards and bring any to your landlord’s attention at once. “Pools should have four-sided fencing,” Driscoll says. The CPSC suggests also contact local authorities to determine whether your state, municipality or community has its own laws regarding pool barriers. Some, for example, require pool barriers to be 60 inches above grade, the CPSC says. “For playgrounds, we look for some type of mulch or protective surface on the ground, not just grass. Also, you just want to make sure it’s well-maintained. I’ve seen playgrounds where the screws and bolts holding things together are loose; if a swing falls off, for example, it could injure a child.”
Keep Your Eyes OpenUltimately, your best tools are your eyes. According to Artuso, parents should make children their primary focus over phone calls, chores and other distractions — especially in the presence of hazards like swimming pools, hot stoves and busy parking lots. “There’s no substitute for adult supervision,” she says. “Young children should never be left alone.”
Whether you own your home or rent it, being prepared and vigilant can help you make sure your children are as safe as possible, as often as possible.