SECURITY AND THE APARTMENT COMMUNITY
In December of 2004, a jury in Tampa Florida awarded an individual over $15 million who was abducted from the parking lot of an apartment community and later shot in the head. The jury in the case felt that the apartment management and owners were negligent in not providing security to the resident and that this resulted in the resident’s injuries from the crime. Is a property management company or owner responsible for providing security to its residents? We don’t think so. Is every owner of a rental home responsible for keeping an armed sentry outside the door of the home? Of course not. This case is one in the trend of cases whereby owners and managers of rental property are being held liable for the criminal acts of third parties, parties over which they have no control. Picture a large apartment community that may or may not have fences surrounding the property sprawled across many acres. There could be almost a mile of fence in some communities. If our own government cannot control its borders, can we expect an apartment community to be able to control every access point? Do we need lethal, electrified, razor wire fences surrounding apartment communities now? At what cost would all this security, none of which is foolproof, come? Will residents be willing to pay to live in a maximum-security environment? Can the thousands of existing apartment communities, large and small, or the duplexes and triplexes all throughout Florida, be retrofitted to prevent someone from jumping a fence or climbing through a hole in a fence that someone else made? Will access gates be the answer? Will a full time security force need to be at every corner of the apartment community armed with AK-47’s.
Though there is no solid, foolproof solution, there are some steps which owners and management can take.
MARKETING In marketing the property to the public, be it in the print ads, the internet, on the phone or through your on-site leasing staff, never should you imply or suggest in any way that your property is safe or has any type of security features whatsoever. The mention of access gates, courtesy officers, or even worse, the use of the word “security officer” or 24 hour manned gates should never happen. When asked if you provide security, simply state that you do not. This should be your company policy, your staff should be trained in this, and it should be clearly stated as such in your written Policy and Procedure Manual.
ACCESS GATES Access gates give a completely false sense of security to a prospective renter. Who among us has not slipped through a gate by following closely behind the car in front of them? Access gates are not security devices and are often non-operational, most often due to an individual running into the gate, resulting in it being broken for some time. We recommend that all residents sign an Access Gate Addendum which clearly explains that the access gate is by no means a security device, can and will break, and, is simply an amenity that guarantees nothing. We strongly recommend that if you do have an access gate, you invest in the technology whereby the vehicle and license plate is photographed every time a vehicle passes through the gate. Remember that gates are no substitute for actual security on a property.
SECURITY ADDENDUM All residents should sign a SECURITY ADDENDUM (see below) whereby they acknowledge and agree that no security is provided.
PROVIDING A CRIME REPORT We recommend that you speak to your local law enforcement agency and request a periodic report of all crime occurring or reported on the property or within some set distance of the property. This should be provided to all prospective residents and made available to all current residents. When providing it to the prospective resident, provide it before they give you an application fee or begin filling out the application. Do not drop this little bomb on them after they have been approved and it is time to sign the lease. Post a list of all known sexual predators and/or offenders within a 1-mile radius of the apartment community, and update this list on a regular basis
COURTESY OFFICER Never tell a prospect that you have a security officer or even a courtesy officer. Many of these so-called security officers or courtesy officers are merely companies which drive around through multiple apartment communities each night and/or respond to certain resident complaints. Often the courtesy officer is a resident who is a police officer and is given a reduced rent to live on the property and “make the rounds” at night or “be on-call”. While it is an excellent idea to have a courtesy officer on-site, never should you imply that this is “security” or even mention it to the prospect. When allowing a local law enforcement officer to live on the property for a reduced or free rent, always make that officer sign a detailed “COURTESY OFFICER ADDENDUM”. Many a local law enforcement officer was given a reduced rent or free rent apartment only to work the night shift at the station and have an unmarked car.
SAFETY EVALUATIONS OF THE PROPERTY Your maintenance staff should be fully trained, either by a professional firm or by a local law enforcement agency as to maintaining a property which is not conducive to criminal activity. The type of fencing, lighting, locks, shrubbery, and obstructions all play a part in making your property less likely to be a target. In our opinion, a light that is burned out is an emergency. A light that is continually broken or stolen needs to be replaced with one which is more secure, no matter how expensive. Maintenance needs to check lights on a regular basis and keep a written log of when a light burns out, and when it is replaced. Any steps you take to make your property less welcome to a criminal will be looked upon favorably in court. Doing nothing looks bad.
HIRING ACTUAL SECURITY IN RESPONSE TO CRIME If your property is prone to crime, you have gang activity, unsolved criminal acts are occurring on the property or you are in a high crime area, you just may have to hire true full time or nighttime armed security until such time that the problem is under control, if that ever happens.
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH MEETINGS Having monthly, or more often if necessary, neighborhood watch meetings on your property will show your commitment to keeping crime off of the property. Encourage residents to report suspicious behavior to you and law enforcement immediately. Contact your local law enforcement agency, as many will assist you in starting, and more importantly, maintaining such a program on the property.
PROPER RESIDENT SCREENING So many apartment communities fall short in conducting criminal background checks on prospective residents. It is crucial that you conduct a criminal background check to the best of your ability, and never fail to have an FDLE Sexual Predator/Offender search performed. This can be easily done by simply going to the FDLE website.
CONCLUSION: Did you like the recommendations given above? We didn’t think so. It all takes time and money; all the while you are trying to provide affordable housing for your residents. The last thing you should do is do nothing. Evaluate your current situation, and chart a course for increased safety on your property. We recommend that you have your attorney review any addendum or form that your may wish to implement. Below is a sample SECURITY ADDENDUM that may give you a start.
Owner and/or Management does not promise, warrant, or guarantee the safety or security of resident or his/her personal property against the criminal or negligent actions of other residents or third parties. Crime can and does occur at apartment communities. Each resident has the responsibility to protect himself/herself and to maintain appropriate insurance to protect his/her belongings including items within or on the premises and vehicles from criminal acts, negligent acts, fire, windstorm, hurricanes, plumbing leaks, smoke or any acts of God. Residents should contact an insurance agent to arrange appropriate insurance for their vehicle, personal property insurance and liability insurance.
No security system, controlled access gate, fence, gate, door, window, courtesy patrol or electronic security device if provided can guarantee complete protection against crime. Even elaborate security systems are subject to mechanical malfunction, tampering, human error or personnel absenteeism, and can be defeated or avoided by clever criminals. Controlled access gates frequently are non operational as they are often damaged by vehicles, therefore, residents should always proceed on the assumption that they do not exist. Windows can be broken, locks can be defeated, and fences can be climbed or damaged to allow access. The best safety measures are those precautions that can be performed as a matter of common sense and habit.
If security systems, security devices, controlled access gate(s) or walk-through services are employed at this community, no representation is being made that they will be effective to prevent injury, theft or vandalism. Such personnel, if provided, cannot physically be every place at every moment. Usually, such personnel are unarmed independent contractors and have no greater authority under the law to restrain or arrest criminals than the ordinary citizen. Therefore, Management does not warrant that any services, devices or persons if employed at this community will discourage or prevent breaches of security, intrusions, thefts or incidents of violent crime. Further, Management reserves the right to reduce, modify or eliminate any system, devices or services (other than those statutorily required) at any time. Resident agrees that such action shall not be a breach of any obligation or warranty on the part of Management. Management may at time place real or dummy video or surveillance cameras throughout the apartment community but Management makes no representations that these cameras are working, recording or even operational.
Resident agrees to notify Management promptly and in writing of any problem, defect, malfunction or failure of door locks, window latches, lights, controlled access gates, and any other access related device.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT BY RESIDENT
I have read, understand and agree with the above notice. I have received no representations or warranties either expressed or implied, as to any security, the safety of the property, or presence of any security system on the property, or guarantee that the apartment community was or will be free from crime. I further acknowledge that Management is not obligated under any circumstances to respond to any signal from an intrusion alarm system. The responsibility for protecting me, my property, my family, guests and invitees from acts of crime is the sole responsibility of myself and law enforcement agencies.
I agree to release and hold harmless Management and the Owners of the apartment community, its employees, agents and assigns from claims arising out of criminal acts of other residents and third parties. I agree that Management and the Owners of the apartment community, their employees, agents and assigns shall not be liable to me based upon any claim that security was not provided. Resident acknowledges that the foregoing shall also be binding upon Resident’s heirs, relatives, successors, guests and assigns.
This document contains the entire agreement with respect to its subject matter. Management and Owner representatives have no authority, except when in writing and signed by all parties to make changes or modifications in the terms of this document.
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