Who Is Your Best Ally in Fighting Crime at Your Properties?

You may be surprised to learn it’s your tenants!

There’s no such thing as a neighborhood with no crime. There are neighborhoods with less reported crime, and there are those areas that are plainly high-crime neighborhoods — but no matter where your property is located, you’re eventually going to have to deal with crime. If you have a property in a neighborhood that is facing a rash of burglaries, theft, or public violence, you need to take steps to keep those things away from your property.

The Easy Steps
Before things get to the point where you’re sincerely worried, take a few steps to make life easier on yourself.

  • Inform your residents that you’ll allow them to install wireless security systems at their cost. Modern security systems don’t have to be wired directly into the house, so they can provide inexpensive security without having to get into the innards of your buildings.
  • Keep an eye on the local news and on social media. Look for mentions of your neighborhood, major intersections, your property’s addresses, and so on.
  • Provide new tenants with a magnet or sticker that has all of the local emergency numbers — more than just 911 — and encourage them to call you personally even if they’re merely suspicious that something is going down near their home. The more they feel like you’re a good resource to depend on, the more comfortable they’ll be talking honestly to you about what’s going on.

Danger Rising
If you start to get reports of legitimate crimes happening near your property, even if it’s not at or to your property, it’s time to step it up a notch.

  • Get together with other local landlords and property managers and discuss how to more carefully select tenants who won’t support or create criminal activity in your neighborhood.
  • Drum up support for a neighborhood watch in the vicinity of your property, and politely ask your tenants and neighbors to participate.
  • Support your tenants, especially if they feel unsafe or have had something happen to them personally or to your property while they were inside. Talk to the authorities on their behalf, and introduce them to those authorities — that will help them understand that something is being done and build their trust.
  • Offer a reward to the neighbors — $120 for information about anything that happens to your property can keep people’s eyes peeled for a surprisingly long time.

When Things Get Real
Finally, if your tenants start making noise about needing to get out of your property because it’s not safe for them anymore, it’s time to move up to DefCon 1.

  • Become a liaison between your tenants and the police. Get each one of them used to calls from you and from the other. Check in on your tenants every few days and make sure that the cops are patrolling the area and taking your tenant’s calls seriously.
  • Consider paying for a security system on the property out of your pocket. If it saves you $12k down the road, why wouldn’t you spend $2k right now?

The single person who can help you the most through an ordeal like a crime spree is your tenant — by forging a strong relationship that works in both directions, you can become their advocate, and they can learn that their best course of action is to tell you about everything that happens around your property.

I would advise against wasting $2k on a security system.

A better alternative. I went to a discount warehouse and picked up an 8 camera security system (8 cameras, cables and the brain box–everything) and a 2 terabyte hard drive for $300. A small LCD monitor was another $100. And then I printed out “Monitored by Video Surveillance” signs and placed them in strategically noticeable locations. You can set the cameras out in the halls, around the building, anywhere. The camera screens can be divided into sections on a single monitor and will flash whenever they notice motion. It’s quite amazing how far and inexpensive this technology has become. Put it next to your regular TV or PC.

Tenants feel safe. Best, inexpensive deterrent out there. You can also hook it up to the Internet and view the cameras in the convenience of your own home and it’s all recorded.

Problem with the security system is there’s usually a monthly maintenance fee with the security company plus, at least in my area, you have to pay the police an annual license fee of $100 (I think they raised again to $150) and then there’s another service charge for false alarms if the police show. Security systems are not worth it for rentals. Cameras, on the other hand, yes. Also, better locks and security bars as long as the bars don’t violate local fire codes if they are locked or screwed in.