It’s time for the multifamily industry to stop ignoring the onslaught of data breach warnings. It’s here. It’s happening.

Essex Property Trust, Inc. reported that a cyber-intrusion has compromised its computer networks holding personal and proprietary information. Essex found evidence of a data breach, but has not yet identified the precise nature of the data. It also has not found evidence that the data has been misused.

Essex is consulting with law enforcement officials and working with a team of independent forensic computer experts to investigate the data breach and determine if employee or tenant data is at risk. Affected parties will be notified once the investigation is complete.

To support its tenants and employees, Essex has set up a help line that will begin operating Oct. 1, 2014 from Monday to Saturday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST.

Essex Property Trust could be the first of many potential victims in the multifamily industry. Many operators' systems contain everything from Social Security numbers to credit card data, information that could give identity thieves the ability to apply for a driver’s license, mortgages, loans, and more.

While a company’s reputation can be hurt, so can its bottom line: legal fees and associated costs add up to an average of $188 per record. For companies like Essex, which holds about 242 apartment properties, costs could add up quickly.

Is your firm protected?