RISK: Step by Step Breakdown of On-Site Safety Liability

What do multifamily owners and the great Achilles of Phthia have in common?  Both have a weak spot.  Based on 3rd party legal feedback from multiple legal teams specializing multifamily litigation, Premise Liability, specifically as it relates to on-site employees, is the biggest risk currently facing owners around the country.

Almost all owners are well versed in Premise Liability.  Whether they execute their own plan to reduce risk, or they choose a fee manager based in part on their on-site safety/risk avoidance plan, it is a key discuss in all corporate offices.  For most part, however, the focus is solely on their residents and for good reason, as the vast majority of Premise Liability cases stem from incidents effecting residents.

 So how do on-site employees enter this equation?

Premise Liability covers many events, but for the purpose of multifamily, the key case variety falls under “inadequate building security leading to injury or assault”.  This means, if a property manager, leasing agent, maintenance worker, or other staff member is hurt while working on-site as a result of “inadequate building security”, the owner can be sued by the employee as a result of negligence.

But wait, Premise Liability views each property as an individual entity with unique circumstances?

Yes, this is very true.  If an owner has one property in Austin and another in Atlanta, the legal system views those two properties as unique.  This makes sense.  Two communities differ based on demographics, area crime, residents, and dozens of other permutations that can result in various levels of safety.  The property in Austin that has had 5 break ins over the last year has different responsibilities than the Atlanta property that has been crime free over the last year.  The legal system expects the owner of the apartment communities to make commensurate security response in both cases.  No judge expects an owner to roll out 24/7 security guards after one break-in.  Rather, better lighting might be in order.

Okay, but what about employees?

To keep with our example of an owner with a property in Austin and Atlanta, the day-to-day job for his/her employees does not differ.  Leasing agents in every apartment community in America are required to tour with unknown guests in isolated vacant apartment units every day.  These unknown guests do not have a background check.  They can not be turned away.  Someone could literally get out of prison for a rape charge and walk into an empty apartment with a young woman. There is no job that carries more inherent risk for women.

For property managers, regardless of where they work, the day-to-day job is the same.  They work alone or in extremely low numbers.  They deal with the public and with residents.  When something goes wrong on-site and a resident is angry, they are the first and only target of the individuals attention.  When someone needs to be evicted, one of the most devastating events in someones life – it is the manager delivering this news.  All of this is done with an open door.  Property Managers don’t have keycard entry offices, security desks, or even the luxury of ‘safety in numbers’ like corporate offices have.  They are on an island, completely exposed.

Regardless of location, be it Austin, Atlanta, or anywhere else, on-site employees jobs carry the same exact risk.  It is a risk inherent with working alone.  This is not a theoretical risk.  We take photo IDs at every property in the country because this risk has already been acknowledged.  Pandora’s box is open, owners have already admitted there is risk, and now Premise Liability dictates that they must then take commensurate measures to provide a safe environment for their staff.  Again, this does not mean armed guards escorting leasing agents, just a reasonable level action that will mitigate risk.  Failure to do so invites a Premise Liability lawsuit for knowing about a risk and failing to take steps to mitigate the risk.

With this in mind, what are you currently doing on-site?  Taking photo ID is standard.  Are your leasing professionals trained to spot a fake ID?  Your property manager opens and closes the office alone – what is in place help them if someone attacks them?  Your leasing agent carries a walkie-talkie and is trained to sound off a code if attacked.  Does your insurance company know that maintenance staff are being required to respond rather than sworn officers?  For that matter, are your maintenance workers trained to deal with a conflict?  What happens when they get hurt?

Taking care of the industry’s on-site employees goes beyond protecting assets.  We all know the risk and there is an ethical responsibility by every member of this industry to do what we can to make sure every man and woman working on-site has a safer place to work.  When we fail to do this, real people get hurt.  Real people die.  They are young women in the prime of their life.  They are grandmothers.  They are hardworking maintenance men no longer able to provide for their kids.  They’re dedicated managers with young children at home.  They are your colleagues who have never told you about being raped early on in their career.

If you own properties or you represent an owner, stop and analyze your staff’s safety today, not tomorrow.  No company expects it to be their employee who is victimized, but the days of acting shocked and appalled are nearing their end.  We all know the risk and it’s time to do something about it.

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