Crime Prevention

Crime wreaks havoc in an apartment community. It causes tenants to move elsewhere. It causes prospective tenants to look elsewhere for housing. It puts a ceiling on rent rates for vacant apartments and rent increases for occupied units. It diminishes the reputation of the apartment complex. The value of the property may decline. Reduced revenue makes it more difficult to do repairs and maintenance. Serious or prolonged criminal activity in an apartment complex can cause a deterioration of the surrounding community

The first step in a crime prevention program is very careful screening of prospective tenants. Use the information on rental applications and verify that information to the extent feasible. Credit reports are a source of information. Criminal records screening is available to investors and management company officials who choose to use it.

Marketing strategy and advertising can have an effect on the type of people who are attracted to your apartment complex. What type of people are attracted by your advertising?

There are many apartment complexes that were built without significant consideration of security issues. Modification may or may not be feasible. Cost of modification is always an issue.

Controlled access to an apartment complex is a desirable crime prevention feature because unlimited access is an invitation to criminals. Controlled access can be expensive to install and is almost always expensive to operate.

Video cameras can be useful but they are usually effective only if they are monitored and a fast response capability exists. Consult your legal advisor before installing or using cameras.

Good lighting is generally thought to reduce the crime rate. Although lighting certainly does not eliminate crime completely, it makes tenants feel safer. Security lighting should always be controlled by photo-electric cells; the lights will be on when needed. They will not be wasting energy when they are not needed.

Bushes and trees, though attractive and desirable, should always be trimmed in a manner that precludes a person with criminal intent from using the vegetation to avoid being observed, especially at night.

Swimming pool enclosures were once used to provide a degree of privacy for bathers. It is wiser to ensure that all of the pool area is continuously observable to dissuade pedophiles. Consult your local municipal authorities, the agency that insures your complex, and your legal advisor about pool health and safety requirements.

It is imperative that door locks be replaced or re-keyed every time an apartment turns over, i.e. a tenant moves out. The practice reduces the potential liability risk for investors and the apartment management company, and reduces tenant and prospective tenant anxiety. Certainly, deadbolt type locks are required. You should be aware that fire departments object to locks that can be opened from the inside only with a key. Tenants should not be allowed to install their own locks or re-key the locks. The landlord or a responsible, management company agent has a right to enter the apartment under legally specified conditions, and that right should be maintained. It may be necessary to grant entrance to official emergency personnel, i.e. fire, police, or emergency medical personnel. The capability to enter the private dwelling place of a tenant emphatically suggests that management company employees must be certifiably trustworthy, and their every action must generate trust.

Reliable window locks are essential, as is a policy encouraging people to use the window locks.

Automobile thieves seem to enjoy working apartment complexes. You may not be able to prevent thieves from gaining access to your parking areas, but if you have an automobile theft problem, you can advise your tenants and prospective tenants that some type of automobile anti-theft system is advisable. You should not recommend a particular system or brand of product because, if a tenant relies on your advice and the tenant's automobile is subsequently stolen, the apartment management company might incur potential liability.

It is sometimes helpful to provide signage indicating the direction to particular buildings or units. It helps the police and other emergency response personnel get to the right place promptly.

The appearance of an apartment complex has an impact on business and on crime prevention. Merchants, whose agents can gain access to an apartment complex, frequently deluge the property with advertising flyers. They hang the flyers on doorknobs, throw them in front of apartment doors, or dump them anyplace they can. In a few minutes the property takes on the appearance of a trash dump, especially on a windy day. If you cannot prevent the distribution of advertising flyers, you should immediately remove them. If you do not remove the flyers, they will remain at the entrance of apartments occupied by tenants who are away from their apartment for an extended time thus sending a signal and an invitation to any person who has criminal intent. The same type of problem can occur if a tenant fails to stop newspapers or mail when the tenant is away for an extended period. Flyers left on automobiles for a while also signal that no one is watching. If you have the capability to prevent door to door solicitors and sales personnel, including children, from exploiting your apartment community, you should do so-for the security of your tenants. Some tenants do not like to open the door for a stranger, especially after dark. And, unfortunately, a criminal can employ anyone to be a scout, even a child.

You receive a phone call and the caller asks: "Do you accept people on Social Security?" Beware. Apartment management companies do not discriminate because applicants do or do not receive Social Security payments. Thieves who steal Social Security checks from mail boxes know the date the checks arrive. They look for places where a lot of checks may be delivered and steal the checks. Apartment complexes often have a large number of mail boxes in a cluster making it easier for thieves. If your clientele includes a significant number of people who may receive such payments, you can encourage tenants to have their payments electronically deposited to their bank accounts. It is advisable to place the names of tenants on the inside of the mailboxes. The names are then accessible to the postal employees but not to other people.

The worst on-site management mistake an apartment manager or apartment management company can make is to allow any unlawful drug activity: buying, using, selling, or manufacturing. There is surely no activity in US history that has generated as much criminal activity as has the illegal drug business. You should ask your local police department to brief all of your on-site employees, periodically, regarding illegal drug activity indicators that your employees might observe during their normal work activities on the property. And you certainly will require a drug screen and background investigation for all prospective employees.

Discovering that one of your tenants has been operating an illegal drug lab in one of your apartments could ruin your day--several of them. Illegal drug manufacturing operations can, generally do, produce materials that are flammable, explosive, and toxic. Toxic vapors can penetrate the walls, ceiling, and floor covering material. If an illegal drug lab is discovered, neighboring apartments may have to be evacuated. Hazardous materials specialists using protective clothing and breathing apparatus will remove all removable items from the apartment. Vendors who are specially trained and equipped must clean the apartment. In some cases it may be necessary to rip out wall, ceiling and floor materials if chemicals have penetrated those surfaces. After decontamination, the apartment must be restored. The apartment will be off the market for a while. It is a costly event and one that produces adverse public relations; it will probably be in the news media.

Security guards can be useful or ineffective, and security guard service is costly. Private security guards can pose a potential liability risk to an apartment management company or to investors. Consequently, if apartment management companies employ people for this purpose, they usually employ or contract for unarmed personnel and call the service a "courtesy patrol" or something similar. The cost of adequate patrol coverage is often prohibitive.

Another approach to security is to invite sworn police officers to reside in your apartment complex. The author has used this tactic with great benefit. Reducing the rent to attract sworn police officers is a good investment. You should exercise discretion, however; regulations for some police departments prohibit officers from accepting subsidized rent.

You cannot treat a resident sworn police officer as an employee of the apartment complex. It is imperative that you avoid asking the sworn police officer to do things--anything--for the apartment complex. A police officer is a public employee. The value is obtained by the officer's presence on the property. A sworn police officer is always on duty. The officer will leave and return at various hours of the day and night. The police officer is a trained observer and a threat to a person who holds criminal intent.

A comedy scene portrayed in a television show a few seasons ago conveyed some understanding of the value of a happenstance presence of a police officer. The scene portrayed a bad guy going into a bar to conduct an armed robbery. The bar, unknown to the bad guy, was frequented by off duty police officers, and business was brisk.

If crime is occurring in other apartment facilities near your apartment complex, i.e. burglary, rape, or car theft, you should inform your tenants; be certain that they are aware. Keeping that kind of information from your tenants is a mistake. Ignorance of the threat leaves your tenants and apartment complex vulnerable. Publicize the information. Urge your tenants to take precautions. Don't offer criminals an invitation. Your tenants will appreciate your candor, and you will reduce the probability that crime will occur on your property.

It is imperative that you avoid releasing information about your tenants. You do not want to facilitate a criminal act. Information should be released only in response to a court order.

Do not give anyone a key to a tenant's apartment no matter how compelling the plea. Do not open a tenant's apartment for anyone no matter how compelling the plea. Improperly releasing information about a tenant or giving an unauthorized person access to a tenant's apartment could facilitate a crime and could produce potential legal liability for investors and the apartment management company.