This check list should be used by you or your maintenance department to maintain and upgrade your property. Every property is different and will have its own unique safety and maintenance issues. Take the time to survey your property so you can add to or delete items from the checklist that are not appropriate for your property. It often helps to walk the property with someone not familiar with it. They will often see things you overlook because of your familiarity with the property.
You can use the checklist as a way to show your residents that you are serious about their safety. Your residents may have good suggestions so share with them what you are doing.
It is a misconception that most burglaries occur at night. When reading newsletters from the Renton Police Department's Block Watch program, I am always surprised at the number of daytime burglaries. In a society where both husband and wife work and the kids are at school, and most people do not know their neighbors, it's much easier to break into a property and not be noticed. Make a point of getting to know your residents (or neighbors). This includes all managers and maintenance people.
Your residents should be able to easily identify your employees as belonging there. If you hire someone to come and do work for you, you should take the time to notify your residents who they are and when the work will be done.
Other crimes including crimes against your car will probably occur at night as it is easier to not be seen. Lighting and landscaping becomes important. Before talking about these issues let's look at the building itself.
Okay, what are some of the things you should be checking on this inspection?
Here are some basic things common to most all properties:
It used to be (and still is in small towns) common to leave your doors unlocked. Everyone watched out for each other and you were relatively safe. Not so today. You need to keep all doors locked even during the day (even if someone is home).
On a hot summer day it is common to leave your front door open and to lock your screen door. This does give you good circulation of fresh air. What it also does is make it easy for a grab and run artist to gain quick, quiet entry to your house or apartment. All the criminal needs to do is to walk up to the screen door, and if he does not see anyone, he will take out a pocket knife and slit the screen, reach and unlock the door. He can then grab that purse, iPad, or other valuables left in the living room. Then, out the door he goes. This whole crime would take less than a minute. A glass screen door that you can open the very top or bottom a few inches protects the residents from this grab and run crime.
All the exterior doors should be constructed with solid hardwood or metal clad. Hollow core doors should never be used as an exterior or entry door as they are easily forced open or broken down.
If there are glass panels in or near your doors, are they reinforced in some way so that they cannot be shattered? You do not want the glass panel to be shattered, allowing someone to reach in and open the door. You cannot count on someone hearing the sound of glass breaking with all the noise we are constantly exposed to today.
All of your entryways should have a working, keyed entry lock and a sturdy deadbolt lock installed into the frame of the door. Have your locksmith install the longest throw possible.
Advise your residents to NOT leave spare keys under a doormat or planter, on a ledge, or in the mailbox! If you can think of a hiding place so can the burglar. The locks to an apartment should be changed before a new resident moves in. You can accomplish this by having extra cylinders and keys, and when someone moves out just exchange them. All apartment managers need to keep extra keys, including any master keys in a secure location and control access to them.
Many glass sliding doors and windows are common targets that burglars use to gain entry to apartments and homes. Make sure that every window in the house has a working lock, pin or rod to keep them from being opened from the outside.
One last thing that you need to make sure is installed and in working order is a peep hole. If they are already installed, are the glass optics intact, and is the peep hole at a height that most people can see out?
Now it's time to look at the outside of your property. You will have to make some decisions balancing looks and street appeal with safety. How you balance this is up to you, although you should consider some basic landscaping ideas.
All shrubs and bushes should be kept trimmed so that there is no place for someone to hide. This is especially important near exterior doors, windows, and walkways.
Other things to be concerned with are dark areas around your building, garages, and yard at night where prowlers could hide. Your best defensive tool against prowlers is "light." Every outside door should have a bright, working light to illuminate all entry ways, walks leading up to entry doors, and illuminate the visitors that come up to the entry.
Floodlights should cover the parking area, walkways, and any open area that your property may have. Effective illumination is an easy and effective way to make your property safer.
All garage doors, shed and storage doors, ladders, and gates should be locked with high security locks. Be sure these areas are well illuminated so prowlers can easily be seen.
Items such as grills, lawnmowers, and bicycles should be either locked away in a garage or storage unit or secured with appropriate locks to a stationary point.
You should encourage your residents to record descriptions, serial numbers, and any identifying marks on personal property. This not only helps in the identification and recovery of the items, and the insurance company will want this information.
You should also encourage your residents to photograph their valuable belongings, especially jewelry. It is always good to encourage your residents to keep photos and written appraisals of their valuables. A home inventory that is kept somewhere safe is always a good idea. If the inventory is kept in digital form do NOT keep it on your computer, laptop, or iPad as they are what is commonly stolen. Flash drives are small, inexpensive, and can be locked away somewhere easily, so use them to store your serial numbers, inventory, passwords, account numbers, and other valuable information. Encourage your residents to do the same.
As an owner or property manager you should photograph, record the make, model, and serial numbers of appliances, and anything else of value in apartments or on the property.
If you know your residents have firearms, have them secure their firearms—unloaded and in storage boxes or a safe, and secured with trigger guard locks.
Mailboxes are another area that need to be well lit and in a well-traveled area. The boxes themselves should be locked with locks approved by the U. S. Post Office.
Encourage your residents to watch out for each other. If they see a crime being committed instruct them to call 911 immediately. Often, they will see or hear something and not call 911 because they do not want to get involved. This is especially true of residents from other countries.
If they see lights burned out or see some other hazard, have the notify you or your manager as soon as possible
As you walk around your property, you will find things unique to your property that may be potentially dangerous. You need to think like a criminal and then decide how best to protect your property and residents. Be proactive when it comes to safety-it will save you money in the long run. One lawsuit can cost you thousands of dollars (even if you are found not at fault).
Reprinted by Permission. Courtesy of the Rental Housing Association of Washington. Visit www.RHAWA.org Source: “Update” newsletter, July 2013
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