Security. It tops residents' wish lists of amenities. But it's the last thing owners and managers want leasing agents to talk about when selling a community. Promising security could lead to liability if something happens on site. "When you talk about security, [owners] have a tendency to freak out," says Michael Elmore, product manager for Ameristar Fence Products based in Tulsa, Okla. "Everybody is scared of liability."
And rightfully so. Whether a company trumpets the security of its project or not, it may still be sued. The multifamily industry is the business most often sued for lack of security, according to Norman D. Bates, president of Liability Consultants Inc., a Sudbury, Mass., company that helps clients avoid substantial risks of crime and liability. According to U.S. tort law, it's up to owners and managers to prove that they took "reasonable care" in providing a safe place for their residents to live, says Bates.
At the Multifamily Crisis Response: A Leadership Design Symposium held last September, a group of industry leaders came up with some best practices to implement that show residents that security is a concern and measures are in place. Multifamily executives adopting these recommendations might not be willing to say, "We offer a secure place to live." But by following these five design and management changes, owners and managers will be "saying" just that about their properties, only in not so many words.
1. Put Eyes on the Street
The key take-away from the symposium is that criminal behavior can be discouraged with the right design. Positioning common areas with oversight to entry paths, for instance, creates the appearance of 24-7 usage and surveillance, explains Robert A. Koch, principal at Fugleberg Koch Architects, a Winter Park, Fla., firm. Using design elements that create a neighborhood look and feel also helps deter crime.
When the buildings face the street, the probability that residents are looking at the street increases. Plus, criminals tend to avoid areas where they can be seen. These buildings, says Koch, become the "eyes on the street."
Building placement and window sizes are strong tools in communicating that there is constant property surveillance, he adds. Communities need to make sure pedestrian pathways, recreation facilities, and parking areas are visible by multiple windows and convenient to as many individual entries as possible.