Areas to Protect at Multi-Family Properties
All properties need security measures. That much is self-evident. The challenge as a multifamily property manager, though, is that it’s not always obvious where you should fortify and protect. Depending on the size of the property, you could have multiple entrances, floors, shared spaces, stairwells, and so on. Between the complexity and the high volume of people coming and going at all hours, security can be a logistical nightmare. Which multifamily property areas should you secure, and why?
Individual Units: Keep Out
Before we get into that, a gentle reminder: you should not put security cameras in any area where someone would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as the individual apartment units. Doing so is not only a violation of their privacy, but it’s also illegal if the residents are unaware of the cameras. And informing potential tenants that you’ll be recording them is probably not going to encourage them to sign a lease.
As a manager, your responsibilities include providing units with a strong door, sturdy locks (and possibly a deadbolt), a peephole, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and possibly a fire extinguisher. Your job is to make it difficult for someone to gain unauthorized access and to protect against common safety hazards. That’s it.
If the tenant wants additional apartment security measures such as hidden cameras or alarms, that is their responsibility, providing their lease permits such devices. You can offer advice—especially to those living in first-floor apartments—but the onus is on them.
But there are plenty of other areas that do need your attention.
Apartment buildings and condo complexes have a number of common areas shared by their residents. These public spaces fall under your protection.
Common areas may include:
- Entrances and exits
- Party or event rooms
- Mail or package rooms
Potential risks include unauthorized access and loitering. You can combat these with multifamily access control systems like keypads, swipe panels, and intercoms. You’ll also need proper lighting and apartment complex security cameras. Also, consider hiring lobby personnel (e.g. a doorman) if you can afford it.
Security mirrors in stairwells and hallways allow tenants to see if anyone is hiding around corners. As a nice bonus, they help everyone avoid collisions and accidents.
Enhanced security in your mail room or package room is pivotal. If deliveries lie around for anyone to grab, the temptation of multifamily package theft can be too hard to resist. Don’t leave it to chance. In addition to security cameras and access control, consider a package locker system like Parcel Pending or Luxer One.
And unless you simply want to record the intruders to watch later, any surveillance cameras you have should include live security monitoring.
Parking Lots and Garages
Most multifamily properties will have at least a few parking spots reserved for tenants. Others might have much larger spaces, either above or below ground. Regardless, these fall under your purview as manager.
Parking lots and garages are a popular target for would-be criminals. Risks include vehicle theft, vandalism, and personal safety concerns. These places can be dangerous—especially at night—because of the darkness, remoteness, and number of hiding spots they provide.
To reduce, if not eliminate, the risks, consider implementing some or all of the following security measures:
- Adequate lighting, either always-on or motion-activated
- Security mirrors so people can see around corners and behind vehicles
- Gated access via keypad or remote opener to keep intruders on the outside
- Security patrols at night
- Panic buttons
- Surveillance cameras
- Proper signage warning against unauthorized access
Once again, actively monitoring these areas is the difference between preventing a crime and simply recording it. Which one do you think your residents would prefer?
In addition to parking lots and garages, multifamily properties may have other exterior spaces shared by tenants. These include:
- Sport courts
- Barbeque pits
Outdoor facilities are more difficult to secure for obvious reasons. Potential risks include trespassing, loitering, vandalism, accidents, and unauthorized access.
Secure fencing is a great (and relatively simple) way to let the right people in and keep the wrong ones out. You can lock gates and provide keys or codes only to those with permission to use them. Some fences may also be required by law, like around an outdoor swimming pool.
Multifamily video monitoring is your best bet for keeping a watchful eye on residents and intruders alike. Implementing live monitoring can have a positive impact on your insurance premiums and liability exposure.
Inspections keep everyone safe while enjoying these spaces. Schedule these on a regular basis, such as a full inspection every quarter or a rolling area-by-area inspection each month.
Finally, hang signage in strategic areas to remind residents of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. A “no running” sign on the pool deck, for example, can go a long way to prevent accidents.
Feedback and Improvement
It is vital that you ask for and seek out feedback from your residents. After all, multifamily property security affects them on a personal level. Questions you might ask include:
- What specific security concerns do they have?
- What else could you do that you aren’t yet doing?
- How do they feel about existing security measures? Pros? Cons?
- Is there a way to simplify a protocol without weakening it?
- Where do they feel most unsafe?
- How pleased are they with your efforts to keep them safe and secure?
- Do they have any suggestions for improvements?
If you don’t ask, you won’t know. That which gets monitored—in this case, that’s your residents providing feedback and input on your security efforts—gets managed, and that which gets managed gets better.
Speaking of which…
Meetings, Drills, and Newsletters
Basic multifamily property security is a team effort between you and your tenants. If any one member is not doing their part, the whole system suffers for it. When each tenant treats security as their responsibility, your security automatically improves.
That’s why educating tenants is almost as important as the protocols and devices themselves. Monthly or quarterly town hall-style meetings are an excellent opportunity to introduce new procedures, inform tenants of emerging threats, remind them of existing systems that are being ignored or used incorrectly, and more. You can also use these get-togethers to introduce or review emergency preparedness, which is an oft-forgotten aspect of safety and security.
All protocols and communication systems should be documented, shared, and periodically reviewed. Make tenants aware of the existence and location of security and safety tools like fire extinguishers, water hoses, fire blankets, escape routes, sprinkler systems, emergency exits, and fire alarms. And conduct fire, natural disaster, and lockdown drills at least annually.
A communal bulletin board or e-newsletter is a quick and convenient way to inform residents of any important updates or reminders—or announcements about “smart” upgrades—related to the overall safety of the building and its occupants.
Cultivate a sense of community, keep open channels of communication, and maintain transparency.
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