Bluestone and Hockley Real Estate Services
It was raining as Melissa drove up the road to her apartment. It had been a long day at work and she was ready to be home. She pulled in her parking space at Murray Place Apartments and walked into her apartment. As she pulled on the door the handle felt loose, as if the door was not fully engaged. As the door swung open Melissa looked in. Everything looked okay so she walked into her hallway and looked around (Security tip: Don't go in alone. If you think there has been foul play call the police). As she walked into her living room she noticed that her computer was gone; her heart sped up as she rushed through the apartment and found that her television and stereo were also gone. She ran out of her apartment and went straight to the manager. The manager called the police, who responded immediately. Melissa decided on the spot that she was moving out. Murray Place lost a great rent-paying tenant. What could the manager or owner have done differently?
Preventing the Break In
The most common criminal threat to a tenant is burglary. The majority of burglaries are committed during the day when most people are at work or at school, so that the burglar does not run into anyone. Most burglars are young men looking for things that are small, expensive and can be very easily converted in to cash. Thirty percent of the break-ins occur through open doors and windows. The others have their property broken into.
Burglars know that the back door and the garage doors are the easiest to get into. They can use a credit card (I have tried this one successfully), or pliers and a screwdriver to get into most apartments. Some just use the “kick in the door” method. It is often successful because strike plates are usually installed with ½ inch screws instead of 3-inch screws or the dead bolt throw is not an inch long. Sliding glass doors are often left open for pet access or can be easily opened because the latching mechanism faces a significant amount of use and does not latch properly. The latches are made of aluminum and become worn or out of adjustment. A common form of entry into a rental unit is to pry at the door near the latch and lift the latch, or even simpler, lift the door out of the track. Blocking devices, such as a wood or metal block will keep the door from being pried open. Keeping the door rollers adjusted and in good condition plus the installation of a pin that extends through both the sliding and the fixed portion of the door will keep a burglar from lifting the door out of the frame. Windows are also left open and very easy to break into. One can limit the amount a window can slide with a wooden or metal dowel. One can also install screws into the upper track of the movable glass panel to prevent it from being lifted out of the frame. Remember that windows on the first floor are easier to get into than windows on the second floor.
Sometimes tenants leave an extra key outside to let the kids in, maybe in the planter box, or under a rock or on the door ledge, or under the mat. Don't think that burglars don't look there first. It is better to encourage them to leave keys with a neighbor.
It is a good practice to have timers that turn on the lights and music in an apartment every night. Exterior lighting is also very important. Good lighting makes us feel safe. Lighting should allow you to read building numbers and easily walk from your car to an apartment. Experts say that the lighting should enable you to identify a potential threat at 100 feet. Metal halide lights throw a bright white light, which is especially useful for large parking lots and walking paths. Fluorescent lamps are commonly used for covered parking and common area walkways and stairwells. They last longer than incandescent bulbs and use less energy.
What Can a Manager Do?
What could the manager have done to make Murray Place safer and keep Melissa from moving out? She could have had a regular get together with the tenants. Maybe once a year the local crime prevention officer could visit with the tenants. She could have given a welcome package to new tenants that include a write up on crime prevention. All of the units could have deadbolts on all of the doors, properly installed of course, and peepholes, so a tenant can look out if there is an unannounced visitor. She should have a policy for changing of door locks between every tenant. She could also encourage tenants to keep their blinds or curtains drawn when they are not at home, so a potential burglar cannot see items of value that might be tempting. Tenants have to make an attempt to be careful and responsible. Advertising that they are not home or that they are on vacation, by not having the newspaper picked up or leaving a note on the door, invites burglars.
In summary, Melissa would have stayed a rent-paying tenant if the tenant had been better informed and the manager had taken the initiative to make the property more secure. Once one tenant's apartment is broken into, other tenants will get nervous and may also move out. Management must be aware of crime and not ignore it. The State of Oregon is very tuned to security. They have passed a law that parking tags must be removable and that they will not identify the property that a tenant lives in. In addition it is a good practice not to number parking lot striping by unit number, so a potential burglar cannot tell if a tenant is home. Security is an important component of tenant satisfaction. The better job you and your manager do, the longer your tenants will stay residents.