Brent Sobol almost wanted to cry when he realized how crime was stifling the success of a property he had bought on the Southside of Atlanta.
The 340-unit property suffered from neglect and had problems spanning from people loitering at all hours of the night to gang signs and graffiti being tagged across the property.
“We had prostitution,” Sobol says. “And that’s just the criminal side. When you go on the civil side, you had aggressive dogs in the units, even though the lease did not allow for that. You had excessive numbers of unauthorized occupants. You would have vehicles that were unregistered.”
Sobol began to question where the return on his investment would come from in such a downtrodden property with so many problems.
"Crime is our industry's dirty little secret," he says. "Everybody’s got it, to some degree, but no one wants to talk about it or admit it."
But the property's problems were running rampant and Sobol had to get serious about finding a solution. And after three years of hard work, dedication and lots of frustration, he found it.
Today, the community's turnover rate hovers around 30 percent and its no longer known as a haven for crime---a huge victory for Sobol.
“We started by cleaning up the curb appeal while we addressed the loitering and trespassing problems because we wanted the immediate neighborhood to see there was drastic change happening,” he says. “Then we looked at problems inside the apartments.”
Then he began enforcing the lease agreements, giving a heads-up to the local authorities before doing so.
“A property manager should also reach out to whoever the district attorney or prosecutor is and let them know you’re interested in getting special attention for a community clean up,” he says.
Sobol learned a lot of lessons the hard way by turning around his own troubled property. Now, more than eight years later, he takes what he learned at the Atlanta property and works as a consultant to help other owners cope with crime-ridden assets.
“I didn’t realize the role crime-prevention played in creating a profitable, sustainable community,” he says.
Kelly Ziegler, a regional property manager for the company, says most of her properties have some sort of courtesy officer living on site.
While a law enforcement officer’s presence may help residents feel safer, Ziegler cautions managers against using the word “security” when talking about the officer’s role. But police officers can serve a vital role as educators to help residents become more aware of their surroundings.
“We don’t portray it as a safety measure, but instead just as a courtesy to show that we’re here and that we do care,” she says. “We are providing whatever resources we can to help (our residents) be cognizant of their own personal safety.”
Officers are hired as contract employees of the company and receive either pay or discounted rent depending on how much time he or she will have to designate to working the area. The company uses the officers to patrol the property, work as a liason and to check safety measures on the property. Making sure lights work and that buildings are properly locked are some of the officers' nightly responsibilities.
Having trained eyes and ears on site certainly adds value to keeping a property secure, Ziegler says. Additionally, the officer acts as another resource for the company’s site-level managers on an as-needed basis for questions.
“It’s good to know we can ask questions when we need to,” Ziegler says. “Is this car supposed to be here? Is this something that is fishy? It’s great to know that there is somebody there that we can reach out to.”
But more importantly, it’s about helping to build an open community where people feel safe and can talk freely with law enforcement. Some properties even hold quarterly meetings with an officer to address any issues or questions residents may have.
“The officer should be seen by the residents and get to know the residents so that they’re comfortable reaching out to that person,” she says.
But when it comes down to protecting your assets, Sobol says the best crime prevention tool a manager can tap into is knowledge.
“Be realistic about what’s going on at that property,” he says. “Get informed on the issues and then safely take action to make your real estate a good neighborhood environment.”
Lindsay Machak is an Associate Editor for Multifamily Executive. Connect with her on Twitter @LMachak.