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All Things Property Management

All Things Property Management is a one-stop destination for folks interested in learning more about managing real estate. Broken down into a variety of targeted columns, the information that you are looking for is easily accessible — from investing tips and best practices in The Intelligent Investor to the real-life dilemmas of property managers in Stories from the Front Lines. We’ve brought on contributing writers from across the country to share their respective expertise with you, whether you’re a landlord, a professional property manager, or an association board member. Your feedback, participation, and comments will help us deliver the information you need most.

Property Management and Crime

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.


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  • Security should be presented as an amenity. Like the pool/exercise room/roof top patio/covered garage. All to often tenants just assume. They all so need to participate.

  • The problem with presenting security as an amenity is I cannot guarantee it. I can guarantee that the pool will be kept clean and pristine for resident use; I can guarantee the garage is there and should be tomorrow, barring natural disaster. I disgree strongly that as a manager, I must gusrantee a safe, crime-free property. Anything can happen at any time anywhere in this country. I can guarantee to be proactive and maintain my properties according to best practices to encourage a safe environment. That's all I can do or should be expected to do, in my opinion.

  • Mindy, I agree there is a limit a manager can do. Guarantee is a high expectation compared to others. Being proactive, maintaining and encouraging a safe environment is more than most do. Tenants need to bear some of this responsibility as a community. I do respect your opinion.

  • I agree, John, that Residents should bear some responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their neighbors. I see on some properties there is little trust, meaning Residents don't trust the police officers so they stop bothering to call in and report things. I see Residents who do not trust the management either for several reasons. When a Manager begins to initiate and build a reputation for solving problems, I see properties begin to get out of the mindset that crime exists and there is nothing they can do about it. I do like the concept of Neighborhood Watches even though it has gotten a bad rep lately. You are right, though, it is really a community issue, not just a PMC's problem and not just the Residents' problem. We all have to work together ...

  • We all have to work together, is the mindset we approach with our clients. We don't just install equipment and get on to the next site, we get involved. Our role at times is acting as the conduit between the different entities (tenants/management and LE). You would be amazed by us just playing that role, environments begin to change. It is more important than the Sale/money. Drives my boss crazy, but she enjoys beating on me anyway. She is always the first one to ask, what more we can do.

  • Here is my 8 pennies' worth:

    1) I agree with never accepting cash: I was at a property once where the prior owner accepted cash for rent payment and it was not a well kept secret.. The ownership changed and the new owner changed the policy immediately. This series of changes was not common knowledge and I ended up being held up at gunpoint after putting together all the rent payments and slipping them into the safe at the end of the day. The guys did not believe me when I said there was not any cash in the office (even my jacket with my wallet was in a locked closet).. then they proceeded to go through my pockets, my desk drawers, and left empty handed after striking me on the back of the head with the pistol grip.

    2) Screening applicants: This is an area where you need a clear policy. You need to look at open lines of credit, unpaid monies to other properties, and unpaid monies to utilities your residents are responsible for. Unpaid monies to properties should be automatic denials, unpaid monies to utilities should be accepted upon proof that the funds have been paid before proceeding. You should exclude student debt and medical debt from the equation. Your background should also include checks for criminal and eviction matches; in the event you have a potential match, you do need to do an identity verification; especially in the case of a common name. I had a criminal match once but went for a verification and found that not only was the match to someone of a different race, it was the opposite sex and in a state where my applicant had not even visited.
    3) Changing locks: I would change locks twice between move out and move in; at move out, I would change to a master key for all vacants that staff carries at all times, and the day before move in I would change the lock again as the last item on the punch list. The master lock should be a key marked 'do not duplicate'.

    4) In the event that you have allegations of residents committing illegal activity on or off property; enlist the assistance of law enforcement to investigate with the hope of refutung the allegations. In the event you are asked to release confidential information; get your supervisor and attorney involved as well as an official document that requires you to release the information.

    5) Give tours during daylight hours only and secure an ID of each person over 18 in the office until you return. Always lead your tours from behind and follow your applicants inside the unit. Consider turning the deadbolt so the door cannot close completely behind you. Carry the radio and use code to alert maintenance staff to trouble (If your maintenance guy goes by Bob, address him as Robert followed by a maintenance issue at your location if you sense a problem).

    6) Neighborhood watches are great if you have the resources; you can also participate in National Night Out events in your community.

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