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Premises Liability for Violent Crime

Multifamily rental housing studies have told us for years that security is an important consideration for apartment and condominium dwellers, especially in urban areas. It is hardly surprising to now see “security” being sold as an amenity in many progressive apartment communities.

The secret to selling security, like any amenity, is to promote it and then maintain it. Promoting security and safety is in everyone’s best interest and helps keep the level of awareness high. New technology requires interaction with the residents, which tends to reinforce the original security purpose. Contrary to popular belief, promoting security does not create any additional liability risks, as long as the information provided is accurate and the security feature is maintained.

Security Technology

Advances in security technology have allowed us to provide an enhanced the level of protection while at the same time reducing the cost of operation. Security technology doesn’t always mean high-tech or new-tech. Sometimes old-tech works just fine. A classic example is having a high-tech, state-of-the-art alarm system versus having a big dog in the yard. Both are likely to deter the same burglar if fear of being detected (or bitten) is a concern.

Access Control

The most visible form of security technology is in the hardware area called access control. This includes fences, gates, windows, doors, locks, and common area lighting. Aside from the presence of a uniformed courtesy officer, access control barriers are what residents think of when they look for security features on a property.

Security Gates

Automatic gates and formidable wrought-iron fencing are the most common high-profile access control system added during new construction of garden apartments. Gated communities are desirable to most prospective residents and most properties change a premium rent for it. The main benefit of an automatic gate system on a low-crime property is the perception of security and exclusivity. Let’s face it, everyone wants to feel good about where they live and a gated community is like a private club where access privileges are required. Any real benefits of crime prevention are a plus.

Still, other apartment communities add gate systems as a barrier to keep criminals off the property and away from rent paying residents. In this setting, the intention is to reduce crime and retain residents by erecting a significant barrier to unauthorized vehicle and foot traffic. Because it is a capital expense, gates are often considered as a cheaper alternative to hiring and managing courtesy officers.

The best gate type depends on the property type. Swinging gates installed on a high-traffic college property or a high crime property will be a maintenance nightmare. Swinging gates look better than the horizontal sliders but are more expensive to maintain. Two mechanical gate operators are required to open each wing of the swinging gate, which doubles the expense and requires twice the maintenance. Swinging gates also get damaged more severely then sliding gates as anxious drivers hit them as they enter the property with their automobiles.

Card Access Systems

Electronic card access technology is still the best system for opening locked common area doors and gates. For newly constructed large properties, card access technology is a better choice than using a radio transmitter for the gates and metal keys for the doors because it offers greater management benefits. Plastic access cards are inexpensive compared to the costs of maintaining metal keys.

Card-key software can be programmed to limit residents to certain buildings and record the time, date, and location of each entryway used. For example, access cards can be programmed to authorize and monitor which residents access the gym, spa, pool, or weight room, which can be a great liability benefit. Card programming can be used in conjunction with video surveillance systems to determine who last entered a room, a building, or drove through the main gate.

Access cards can also be integrated as photo-ID cards for employees on a large property. Programmable cards are great for monitoring employee time and attendance, security patrols of the property, and can limit access to sensitive areas like the manager’s office, the maintenance shack, or the key control room.

Key Control

With a card access system, key control of common area doors is easier and cheaper to manage. If an access card is lost or a resident moves out, the card can be deleted from the system with a few keystrokes. Gone are the days of pulling common area door locks and changing lock cores or re-keying metal keys.
Metal Keys

For large properties, technology has provided a solution for controlling metal apartment unit keys. Several vendors now make a computer-based key control system that safely stores and codes each key and can be password protected at multiple levels. When the backup unit key is retrieved for example, the time, date, unit number, and person taking and returning the key is recorded. The computer will know at all times what keys are in inventory and can print a key inventory history upon request.

Doors, Windows, Locks

Entry doors and sliding windows are not as solid as they used to be, but technology has provided solutions to make them secure once again. The weakest part of a door lock assembly has always been at the doorjamb and lock strike-plate area. New heavy-duty strike-plates using 3-inch screws and doorjamb reinforcement plates are on the market and have received high ratings in preventing forced entry. Even though low quality door locks still flood the market, new high-security Grade-1 and Grade-2 door locks are readily available at most supply sources.

Sliding windows and doors, once vulnerable to forced-entry have been improved with special anti-lift and anti-slide features built into the framing. Architects are starting to include these specifications into their drawings and builders are starting to recognize the importance and salability of these improved security features.

Common Area Lighting

Lighting is obviously the most visible form of security after dark. Good lighting is what makes us feel safe. Lighting should allow you to read building numbers, safely navigate the walkways from your car to your door, and identify a potential threat at 100 feet. Lighting technology has improved and so has the cost efficiency of providing adequate illumination. For a bright white light, I recommend the use of metal-halide fixtures especially for large parking lot areas and thoroughfares.

In moderate climates, I recommend fluorescent lamps for covered parking and common area walkways and stairwells because they are very energy efficient. For example, it’s possible to replace every incandescent lamp fixture with fluorescent fixtures on a property and enjoy a return on your investment with one-year’s energy savings.

Security Trends

As the century turns, expect to see increased demand for security amenities, especially on upscale properties. More and more workers will begin telecommuting from home. The advent of the Internet and e-mail has opened up vast opportunities for work-at-home occupations such as software development, web site graphic design, stock day-trading, advertising, and technical writing. Alarms systems, electronic access control, adequate lighting, and a visible security presence will be desirable amenities that apartment dwellers will seek out.

Miami Protection
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