Property managers are on the front lines of social problems because they work with entire communities. People are generally wonderful, of course, but a few seem to make a habit of spoiling it for the rest of us. What has this got to do with sustainability and green property management? Actually, quite a lot. Criminal activity is often the first sign that a multifamily property is beginning a decline. A few criminal incidents and residents and management can become discouraged or distracted. The resources that could be directed toward more sustainable property management by necessity are re-focused into security and related issues.
Safety in our homes should be something we can all agree creates a healthier, better community, but reducing a criminal element while respecting the privacy laws of residents can be a challenge. The success of efforts to keep gangs, drugs and crime out of multifamily housing can benefit from state-of-the-art professional help.
Although criminals can be violent in their own homes, they are less likely to risk the chance of getting caught by committing certain other types of felonies on home ground. For instance, those stealing personal property would be disinclined to steal a neighbor’s mountain bike or lawn mower for their personal use as the property could be identified. It is difficult for property managers with suspicions to identify criminals with absolute certainty. This has kept ’transient’ criminal activity under their usual radar and left them with few tools to ban or evict residents who intentionally or inadvertently assist criminal behavior.
The International Crime Free Association (ICFA) intends to change this. The organization offers its police department members a comprehensive program developed to train local property managers in basic crime prevention. The program uses the managers to assist the police department with resident education and performs property inspections. The training also provides best grounds and maintenance procedures and outlines lease addendums that can speed legitimate evictions. Managers are also given access to certain types of police data and other tools intended to discourage criminal opportunity within their multifamily communities.
The newest ICFA member in the U.S. will be the Orlando, Florida Police Department (OFPD). The OFPD announced that the program will make it easier for landlords to evict problem tenants and their visitors who commit crimes. There are three aspects to the educational program, which the organization claims has reduced police calls in some complexes by 70%. Certification in the program requires:
I. Property managers receive training through the police department which includes:
- Crime Prevention Theory
- CPTED Theory (Physical Security)
- Benefits of Resident Screening
- Lease Agreements and Eviction Issues
- Crime Free Lease Addendum
- Key Control and Master Key Use
- On-Going Security Management Monitoring and Responding to Criminal Activity
- Gangs, Drugs Activity, and Crime Prevention
- Legal Warnings, Notices & Evictions
- Working Smarter With the Police
- Fire and Life Safety Training
- Community Awareness
To prevent the ”Wild Bill Mentality”, the property manager is required to undergo training before the police department commits to any further program involvement. After the crime prevention and awareness training, property managers receive certification as an instructor and a 100 page manual with additional reference handouts for residents.
The sample lease addendum the ICFA provides is intended to create a legal agreement between the tenant and the landlord that allows for eviction if there are any criminal activities by the tenant or guests. Before use the addendum should be reviewed by an attorney as state rules vary somewhat, but the general theory of using a legal contract to forbid illegal activity is valid. These agreements have been in many lease contracts with regard to other forbidden uses – like manufacturing illegal substances or having five dogs – but this particular lease addendum specifically outlines the eviction consequence.
If tenants, or their friends and family, commit crimes that become part of the police department’s record, the lease agreement triggers the eviction process. Of course, managers can use discretion, but at least they have a legal tool. In some cases where there is a continuing problem the resident has been intimidated by the criminal or the resident is colluding with the criminal.
II. After the property manager is certified as an instructor, the police department will perform a property survey to ensure:
- Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Survey (CPTED)
- Minimum door, window, and lock standards compliance inspection
- Minimum exterior lighting standards evaluation
- Key Control procedures evaluation
- Landscape maintenance standards compliance
Each property is unique, but correcting lighting, pruning shrubs and reinforcing doors and windows can eliminate many problems. Creating open, visible entryways and the use of occupancy sensors to fully light alleys and parking areas are just a few areas that can be inexpensively and quickly improved.
III. The final step in the ICFA program involves an educational program provided to the residents in community awareness. Led by the manager and the police department, residents are taught how to prevent crime and given practical information. There are many groups like Neighborhood Watch that are citizen-run and effective, but property managers can have unique authority and additional credibility with their residents. This authority is reinforced by residents awareness that their manager has sanctioned access to police department information.
Certainly peaceful enjoyment of one’s home is an ideal, but the cooperation of committed property managers, police and residents can help protect our communities. Beyond personal satisfaction, the payback is more than a safer community. Other positive outcomes will include lower maintenance costs, higher occupancy rates and better tenant retention.