1. Know who is living in your apartments. If they aren’t on the lease, politely ask them to leave; most of the time they oblige. Have a police officer assist you when informing the unauthorized occupant that they are criminally trespassing. This is known in the law enforcement arena as a “knock and talk” and is very effective. This action step is essential because a large percentage of troublemakers are people who weren’t named on leases, but who were on the property when they decided to cause trouble. Walk 100 percent of your apartments at least twice a year, looking for unauthorized occupants and criminal activity. A person should accompany the owner or manager when he or she does this, for safety reasons.
2. Determine which units troublemakers are visiting and then swiftly evict those apartments. As long as the leaseholder allows troublemakers to visit his or her apartment, the root problem will not go away. These troublemaking visitors rarely share the same respect for the lease agreement as leaseholders. The lease should define the number of days visitors are allowed to stay in an apartment before they either must be added to the lease or are considered trespassers.
3. Don’t tolerate parents who don’t parent their kids. Teens today have easy access to hard drugs, weapons and other illegal and immoral temptations. Some parents today believe that they aren’t responsible for watching and mentoring their kids. Some even think it’s the property manager’s job to be the parent. That’s not how the law is written – wayward parents must be evicted from their apartments if their kids cause too much trouble. It is not against Fair Housing regulations to evict parents who cannot or do not want to curb their children’s repeated, inappropriate conduct.
4. Enforce community rules. Simple rules such as “No littering” for items such as cigarette butts, bottle caps, candy wrappers, etc., not storing trash on balconies; not allowing unlicensed autos; not allowing bandanas (which could be gang identifiers) and not allowing residents to consume alcohol outside their apartment contribute to creating a respectful and obedient resident base. Well-behaved residents appreciate these rules while the unruly often ultimately choose to move out. Enforcing discipline daily and showing respect for the lease agreement pays huge quality-of-life dividends for the entire community.
5. Fix graffiti and vandalism on the same day they are discovered. Don’t let the troublemakers think they can win. By fixing vandalism promptly upon discovery, vandalism eventually ceases. An effective remedy to chronic fence-cutting or fence-hopping is to apply gooey axle grease to the fence or to plant point Chinese Hollies at the cut-through points as a deterrent.
6. Befriend real estate neighbors. The chances are that the type of bad behavior one community experiences carries over to neighboring properties or businesses. Counter that by striking a cordial relationship with neighbors over lunch or hold periodic community meetings so that owners can bond. Use that time to talk about the shared issues so both parties can determine how to be vigilant in identifying and preventing crime. Also, consider splitting the cost for hiring security or off-duty police patrols or issuing multi-property “No Trespassing” warning signs. This requires writing simple letters of authority from the ownership that allows rule enforcers to issue criminal trespassing notices across multiple parcels of real estate and is allowable by law.
7. Work hand-in-hand with law enforcement. The legal process is confusing because it jointly involves people’s homes and criminal behavior. Add to it that laws in locales differ. Sometimes what is legal does not seem right and what is right does not seem legal. Local prosecutors and members of police departments are good sources to use when developing strategies to deal with the worst offenders for your locale. They want to work with you to solve crimes. To do so, owners must be persistent in requesting assistance and must provide specific details about circumstances that are believed to have led to illegal activity. One way to document this activity is with a digital camera. When troublemakers notice that they have had their pictures taken, they usually won’t come back because they know evidence exists to implicate them in a crime. As victims of criminal trespassing or loitering, owners have a right to take such pictures.
8. Review the lease agreement thoroughly with leaseholders when they move-in. By doing so, it is much less likely that rule-breaking residents will make excuses to police officers and property managers, such as, “I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to move-in my unemployed, drug-addicted, recently evicted, second cousin without my landlord’s permission.” Excellent property managers will ask that the leaseholders initial each paragraph of the lease at lease signing. Yes, this can be time consuming, but it will convey the importance of following community rules in accordance with the lease.
9. Don’t allow “hanging out” at the community. This often leads to other things, especially when teenagers are involved. Inform visitors that they always must be in a leaseholder’s home during the visit and should not be loitering about the real estate. If you confront such an interloper, offer to safely accompany visitors to the leaseholder’s home. By doing so, many times they will choose instead to simply walk off the property because they weren’t there to visit a leaseholder in the first place.
10. Hire off-duty police for occasional and random enforcement. Though the going rate for an off-duty police officer can be as much as $50 an hour, this is a worthwhile investment for owners who experience chronic problems. Ask the captain at your local police precinct to recommend an officer who might be interested in an off-duty, extra job assignment. Screen off-duty police officers to determine their tendencies to make arrests because some officers prefer to simply talk to offenders rather than arrest them. Communities experiencing tough crime activity require officers who are more likely to make arrests. Some avoid making arrests to avoid filling out the required paperwork that accompanies an arrest. Also note – although security patrol officers who work with for-profit companies have the ability to detain crime suspects, only an officer of the law can legally make an arrest and create a criminal charge. Security offers can be excellent at deterring crime, but often aren’t able to solve root crime causes.
Combating crime and promoting community safety is a passion of Brent Sobol, who operates 1,100 apartment units for TORO Properties. He was awarded the 2009 Citizen of the Year Award by the Atlanta Police Department for his commitment to crime prevention. Article originally published in the February 2010 issue of Units. Reprinted with permission of the Landlord Times.