By Elizabeth Whited and Joe Killinger, Rent Rite Directory
Apartment and condo community crime rates are on the rise, as developments without adequate security measures or properly screened residents are falling victim to on-property offenses. Simple safety measures and precautions can be taken to ensure that your neighbors and residents are safer in their homes, and that your Property Managers have all of the information needed when making leasing decisions.
Some items to consider are: does your property have security cameras? If not, is the area outside well-lit? If the entrance is not gated, and there is not money in the budget to do so, how are the individual locks kept up-to-date? Do managers hold community meetings to provide information on how residents can protect themselves and their families? Using your community to help report suspicious activity, and follow their instincts can be greatly beneficial. Make sure your property is working with a Crime Free Program (http://www.crime-free-association.org/) and that your managers communicate with Police Departments in their area.
Other items to be aware of:
- Watch out for gross inconsistencies in applications
- Watch out for Friday afternoon applicants who say they must move in that very weekend
- Create a Guest Visitation Policy
- Maintain the community’s common areas
- Know your residents
- Create House Rules – i.e.: curfew, laundry room and pool operating hours
Community meetings to educate residents prove extremely beneficial in bringing awareness to the families affected by on-property crime. Communication is key, as well as being properly informed. Certain screening services, like The Rent Rite Directory, also work closely with local Police Departments to issue community alerts to neighborhoods, and send out Amber and Silver Alerts to Property Managers.
The International Crime Free Association’s Multi-Housing Division was created in 1992 in an effort to prevent crime on properties. Local police officers work together with property managers and owners to help educate on proper crime prevention techniques such as: properly screening applicants; building design changes that can discourage crime; and manager and community awareness training. In most cases the police are more likely to recommend renting from a property that has completed and implemented the program, as they know it is more likely to be a safer alternative.
Even if your property is located in what you deem to be a safe neighborhood, it only takes one bad egg to commit a crime that can ruin the reputation of your community. Many crimes committed may not even be from the residents themselves, but from unauthorized guests or roommates. Proxy renters are also an issue, as they are renters with excellent credit whose name is used on the application and lease documents, but who rent on behalf of someone else who actually moves in to the residence, such as drug dealers, sex offenders and sex traffickers. Remember that any process put in place should be applied across the board with every applicant, not just the ones that you think might be problematic.
Another key to providing a safe community is to perform due diligence with all of your residents. How often do you follow up with references, or even ask for references from your prospective residents? More importantly, what steps do you take to verify the references that are given are the actual previous landlords and/or managers? A phone call can make the difference and help you in your leasing decisions. There are also online databases that are able to track lease violations, property damage, skips, and evictions to better prepare screeners for what previous managers and landlords dealt with in the past.
Remember to run a criminal background check in addition to a credit check, and make sure that wherever you are receiving your information from is Fair Credit Reporting Act compliant. (Note: It is illegal for management companies to pull reports if their offices have not been inspected to provide reports based on their permissible purposes.)
After protecting the safety of everyone involved in your property, other issues to consider that can be caused by on-property crimes are: decline in property values, the costs from a bad resident (repair, eviction) and the loss of valued residents. Remember—communication, education and shared information are all key aspects of making your investment property as safe as possible for everyone who lives and works there. There are socially responsible companies out there who want to help protect your communities, and your investments.
The Rent Rite Directory is an up-to-date database that keeps everyone informed about residents who commit lease violations, skips, and even proxy renters (those who sign leases on behalf of tenants that would not otherwise be qualified to rent i.e.: drug dealers, sex offenders). The RRD has since introduced Tenant Screening services, to support the free version of the site, which compile the information from the Incident Reporting database with National Credit and Criminal Reports.