As a property manager, you may be under the impression that in order to abide by fair housing laws, you can’t refuse to rent to convicted criminals. And that likely stokes safety concerns for yourself and your tenants.
The first step to working more safely in the property management field is to correct this common misunderstanding, says Timothy L. Zehring, executive director of the International Crime Free Association. Though Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines make clear that you can’t institute a rental policy denying all applicants with a felony on their record, you have more freedom to turn down those whose criminal convictions relate directly to safety violations (such as battery, rape, or homicide), adds Eric Wetherington, 2018 president-elect of the National Association of Residential Property Managers. (Learn more about creating rental policies regarding criminal history at nar.realtor.)
Knowing this can help you feel more confident in choosing quality tenants, but there are other potential safety hazards in a property manager’s job that you should be vigilant against. Here are some important tips for improving everyone’s security on your property.
Don’t put all your trust in tenant-screening services. Such services typically run a basic background check, which may include verifying a prospective tenant’s previous addresses. But you want to go deeper than that. Dewayne Cosby of Reece & Nichols, REALTORS®, in Kansas City, Mo., and his wife and business partner, Stacey Johnson-Cosby, advise calling the applicant’s current landlord yourself. The most important question to ask, Johnson-Cosby says, is whether the landlord would rent to the prospective tenant again. If the answer is no, that should raise a red flag.
Call for law enforcement backup when confronting contentious rental issues. Emotions can run high when you’re dealing with difficult situations, such as collecting unpaid rent, enforcing trespassing rules, or evicting tenants, and it could be dangerous to walk into these scenarios alone. David Fleming of Bryce Realty in Sidney, Ohio, who manages two mobile-home parks, says he was assaulted last year after asking solicitors on the premises to leave. He suffered a broken jaw and ankle. Fleming now calls on police officers to join him when posting notices to tenants’ doors or confronting trespassers.
Have a no-cash policy for rent collection. The prospect of quick cash lures thieves, so you don’t want large quantities of it laying around the rental office. To keep it to a minimum and help prevent potential robberies, make it your policy not to accept cash as a form of rent payment. If it’s available, use an electronic system for rent collection, such as a quick-pay app. You may even consider posting signage throughout your building stating that there is no cash on the premises.
Consider a self-showing process to view vacant units. Self-showing technology, such as ShowMojo, Rently, and Tenant Turner, allows prospective renters to schedule showings and access vacant units via a lockbox without the help of a property manager or leasing agent. (This, of course, is not an ideal method for showing units that are still occupied.) These products also include a check-in system so property managers can keep an eye on which units are being viewed. Wetherington, who is also broker-in-charge at New Heights Property Management in Summerville, S.C., uses such technology and says it brings greater peace of mind to his leasing staff. “The service allows us to send an electronic link to potential lessees to see a property at their convenience,” he explains. “They get a text, an entrance code, and have immediate access.”
Use design elements to thwart would-be attacks at your property. Landscape design and fencing shouldn’t block window views, outdoor lighting should be bright enough to illuminate people’s faces, and vestibules at building entrances should be transparent. Measures such as these are part of an aesthetic approach known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), which makes it easier for tenants to surveil their surroundings and harder for criminal activity to go unnoticed.
Make tenants part of the crime-free solution. Consider adding an addendum to lease agreements stating that tenants can be evicted for allowing or enabling criminal activity on the premises. Therefore, if you do decide to evict a tenant because of a criminal violation on the property, this document will provide a solid legal defense.
Secure units immediately after they’ve been vacated. Cosby says simply locking up after a tenant moves out—especially if it was an eviction—is not sufficient. “Criminals are aware tenants have moved out because they see property on the curb,” he says. “Property managers should change locks as soon as possible.” Securing windows in vacated units is also paramount to security. Most criminals won’t break windows because of the noise, Cosby explains. So if the windows are locked tight, they’ll most likely move on.
Choose a suitable smartphone safety app. The key is selecting an app with 24/7 live support, longevity, and a GPS feature. The Kansas City Regional Association of REALTORS®, for example, supports Lifeline Response for its members. “It is one of the most reliable of the products we looked at and ties in directly with local police for an unparalleled response time,” says KCRAR CEO Kipp Cooper.Above all, get educated. NARPM offers several classes, including a comprehensive risk management course and certification classes teaching property managers intimate knowledge about the industry. The International Crime Free Association also is teaming up with my real estate safety company, Safety and Security Source, to offer comprehensive safety training to property managers, leasing agents, rental property owners, and law enforcement.