Is Apartment Security Really Necessary?

This article originally appeared on and was written by Chris McGoey, CAM, CPP, CSP.  

Rental housing owners have asked me many times, “Why should I invest money for security on my property? It’s very expensive and besides, I’m a taxpayer, the police are supposed to provide this protection for me.”

The truth is that providing adequate security makes good business sense. A relatively crime-free property is good for business. In some markets there is fierce competition among property owners to keep occupancy rates high while still attracting that good resident. Good residents tend to abide by the law, pay the rent on time, sign long leases, make few demands on management, and maintain their apartments in better condition. All of these attributes generate greater net-operating-income for the property owner.

Good residents have options about where to live and are making judgments about personal safety before signing a lease. More than ever, landlords must make a greater effort to provide a reasonably safe living environment to attract and retain residents. Research shows that new residents are looking for housing that is conveniently located, clean, affordable, and safe. A property that satisfies these criteria will sign up more rental prospects, receive more renewals and referrals from current residents, have less turnover, fewer maintenance problems, and less management headaches.

Experienced property managers agree that a property with a truly integrated security plan will retain a higher percentage of good residents. Your best residents will move out of a property where crime and disturbances are tolerated by management. On high-crime properties, I always find a higher percentage of marginal residents living with constant fear of crime and contribute to the downward cycle of property deterioration. No one wants to live in such a hostile environment!

It might be the Law

One compelling reason why you should provide adequate security on rental housing property is that it might be the law. Many cities and states have enacted statutes, codes or ordinances that set forth minimum standards for rental housing safety. In many jurisdictions, landlords are required to fortify apartment access points by installing solid-core doors, deadbolt locks, or secondary security devices on windows. A few cities even set minimum criteria for exterior lighting and security patrols on troubled properties. A single violation of a municipal mandate could cause a fine to be levied or loss of occupancy permits, if not brought into compliance. Severe violations can bring criminal sanctions.

Another motivating factor for landlords is the fear of being sued in civil court for injuries caused by failing to provide adequate security. Since the mid-1980s there have been many high-profile premises liability lawsuits that focused on the issue of inadequate security for failing to provide adequate door and window locks, key control, lighting, security patrols, maintenance, and background screening for both employees and new residents. These high-profile cases allowed a microscopic examination of the security practices, or lack thereof, within the multi-family housing industry. Nationally syndicated radio and television talk shows and print media have published unflattering stories exposing dangerous apartment communities overrun by gangs and drug activity. This coverage gave all landlords a symbolic black-eye.

Today, news of multi-million dollar jury verdicts are no longer exceptional where property owners and managers are found negligent for failing to provide adequate security. These adverse jury verdicts have caused insurance rates to soar and resale value of some investment property to plummet. A surprising number of landlords were forced into bankruptcy and lost their investment.

The Wrong Approach

It is surprising to learn how many property owners and managers operate a large rental housing property without any real crime prevention training. After all, making a property reasonably safe is the responsibility of the landlord. Most managers attempt to learn on-the-job by making mistakes, wasting money, and risking injury to residents and other employees.

One consequence of feeble attempts to fight crime is that fear and distrust will increase among the residents. Without a doubt, unhappy residents will eventually move and will certainly not be the source of any new referrals. Fearful residents also become angry and blame the landlord for their substandard living conditions. As you might expect, angry residents make up a large class of plaintiffs that sue their property owner or property manager when they become victims of crime.

A common mistake that inexperienced property owners make is not implementing a comprehensive security plan. Instead they rely on a series of quick-fixes and temporary solutions like hiring a uniformed security patrol service every time there is a spike in crime just to make residents feel better. Security patrols work to some degree in the short-term, but without any other changes to the environment the crime problem will surely return within sixty-days when the security service is terminated. In the end, the quick-fix method is not cost-effective because it has to be repeated so often to the dismay of frustrated residents.

The Right Approach

Many landlords have not made a commitment to implement a comprehensive security plan for their property. The most common excuses I hear are that security services are unreliable and too expensive to implement fulltime. When I hear remarks like this I realize that the property manager has the wrong idea about how to incorporate security planning into the daily routine of property management.

Providing adequate security for rental housing is a learned process that attacks the very core of criminal activity and will not allow it to take root and grow on a property. A good security plan is designed to permanently integrate into the daily routine of property management. Once integrated, it is difficult for the untrained eye to identify the component parts of this security plan. By design, bad residents and criminal types will feel pressure from this plan. They will feel uncomfortable living or plying their anti-social trade in this highly attentive environment. So, how to I develop a security plan?

Ten-Step Apartment Security Plan

I have simplified the process and call it my Ten-Step Apartment Security Plan. Each component step is important and an integral part of the success of the overall plan. Successful completion of the first step lays the foundation and knowledge-base necessary for addressing the second. If you fail to implement a step, full benefit will not be realized. Because it is designed for long-term success there are no short-cuts or quick-fixes to this security plan.

Once fully implemented, the Ten-Step Apartment Security Plan is seamless to the overall operation. Crisis management due to frequent crime problems will become rare events. High resident turnover due to fear of crime will return to normal. Maintenance costs due to vandalism and unit abuse will be substantially reduced. Exposure to premises liability will be minimized. Occupancy levels will increase and stabilize at a desirable level. Best of all, income and expense budgeting will become more predictable as net operating income increases.

My Ten-Step Apartment Security Plan is outlined below:

  • Step – 1: Make a Commitment
  • Step – 2: Partnership with Law Enforcement
  • Step – 3: Security Management Training
  • Step – 4: Crime Risk Assessment
  • Step – 5: Physical Security Solutions
  • Step – 6: People Solutions
  • Step – 7: Policy and Procedure Solutions
  • Step – 8: Develop a Security Plan of Action
  • Step – 9: Community Involvement
  • Step-10: Maintain the Standards


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