By Carla Toebe, New Century Realty, Kennewick, WA
One of your responsibilities as a property manager is to maintain a safe, secure, crime-free property. Unfortunately, there are a number of scenarios within property management that a criminal – or even just an opportunist – could exploit. The list below outlines some situations to avoid and some precautions to employ.
Never accept cash. Never, under any circumstances, accept cash as payment of rent. By never accepting cash, you will prevent possible thefts by employees or outside people who have marked you as a target, and you will also attract fewer criminals who want to deal only in cash so they can launder money or keep their money trail off the records to avoid being tracked.
Screen your applicants. Application screening is another very effective way of recognizing criminals, or people living beyond their means. Naturally a criminal record is a red flag and is generally considered a reason for denial. Another red flag is having a number of items in collections that are not being dealt with. This could mean the individual is living beyond their means. You have to consider the possibility that their wages might be garnished to take care of these bills. Would they be able to still pay the rent? Where is the rent money coming from in that case?
Be aware when showing units. Showing a rental unit could also be potentially dangerous if you do not take appropriate precautions. When you are showing a place privately to a stranger, you are giving them a perfect opportunity to commit a crime against you. It is always a good idea before you meet them to get their information and do all the pre-screening you can. If you feel they may be an OK fit but are still uneasy about them, be sure to show the unit during daylight hours. One very good tactic is to set appointments for multiple prospects at the same time. If you must meet the person alone, require an ID prior to entering and leave their license info with someone who can follow up with police in the event you don’t return with the “all OK” message.
Change the locks. Always make sure you change the locks between tenants. There should be adequate key control in place as well. Keys marked with the unit number and street number can lead someone right to the tenant's door in the event that key becomes lost, is not returned, or is left lying around by someone using it. Keys should only have limited information on the tags or a cross reference sheet identifying what the codes on the tags mean. Always keep proof that the locks have been changed; it protects you from liability in the event of a break-in. If a tenant loses a key, they should be charged a replacement cost to re-key the locks.
Keep sensitive information secure. You’re holding personal information about each of your tenants. All of this information needs to remain in locked cabinets when not in use and not given out to anyone without the tenant's written authorization, unless it is requested by law enforcement. If it is requested by law enforcement, you will need to cooperate, but make sure you are dealing with an official of the local police or FBI before giving out personal information.
Keep renters informed. If a crime does occur in one of the units you are managing and you have other tenants in the same vicinity, they should be notified of the crime so that they are aware and can protect themselves. Most crimes committed against people in rentals are crimes of opportunity, and renters can do simple things to make sure they do not become victims.
Think twice about signs. If your rental is in a higher crime neighborhood and prone to vandalism, you may want to do some creative advertising that your unit is available. You do not want to leave a sign on the street indicating you have a unit ready to move into. If you must put a sign out there, you can request that the current tenants not be disturbed so that any onlookers will think it is occupied.
Engage the community. Finally, there are neighborhood watches that you and tenants can become involved in, and many cities have crime prevention seminars that you can attend to learn more tricks of the trade in order to help keep you and all your tenants safe.