In 2012, the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program advised violent crime increased for the first time in six years by an estimated 0.7 percent. Crime rate increases in 2012 were also noted by the following Bureau of Justice statistics:
» Theft victimization increased from 104.2 to 120.9 per 1,000 households
» Violent crime rose from 22.6 to 26.1 per 1,000 persons
» Residents in urban areas experienced the highest rate of violent crime, and western state urban residents the highest rate overall
Negligent Security Liability
Negligent security liability is an extension of premises liability law. Although a criminal is directly responsible for injuries, through a negligent or inadequate premises security action, a victim injured by a third-party attack while on another’s property can also pursue remedy for their suffering against those responsible for maintaining the property. Actions by the victim or surviving family may be brought against any business or landowner.
Since the 1970’s, high profile crime cases led the way to an era of civil litigation establishing negligent premises security liability. Today, numerous law firms specify negligent security as a specialty practice area. Studies have shown settlements and jury verdicts can be substantial at hundreds of thousands of dollars, even exceeding a million dollars.2 Although any landowner is susceptible to such actions, residential providers are routinely scrutinized following a violent attack. No residential complex can guarantee the safety of its tenants or guests from violent crime; however, courts have held a duty to use reasonable care is owed. The duty of care owed by a landowner to invitees for protection from criminal acts is dependent upon the foreseeability of such acts.
Consider the case of a guest visiting a friend residing within an apartment complex that was primarily renting to college students. A large party hosted by a tenant led to a fi ght within the parking lot. The guest victim was attacked and killed. The apartment complex owners settled the wrongful death action for negligent security in the amount of $850,000.3 When determining foreseeability and whether the injury was preventable, existing standards, crime statistics within the area, event history at the complex, community standards and specific risk considerations are all contemplated.
For apartment owners, the ambiguous terms of ‘foreseeable’ and ‘reasonable’ provide little guidance. Some jurisdictions have enacted codes to address minimum requirements geared at security measures, but these are only minimum standards. Crime activity can quickly change both within a complex and its immediate surroundings.
While insurance companies afford protection to residential operators and owners, one large negligent security payout can result in severe consequences to renewal term pricing, or whether a renewal term is even offered. Should a jury determine a property owner egregiously disregarded security controls, a punitive damages verdict could cause significant out-of-pocket costs when insurance policy or legal jurisdiction restrictions apply. Reputational harm and losing quality tenants can add additional financial consequences.
Apartment owners and managers are in the best position to prevent criminal activity and defend against negligent security actions by putting diligent controls in place.
Security and Crime Prevention Suggestions
Below are actions residential property owners can take to reduce and prevent crimes from occurring:
Demonstrate Crime Intolerance to Tenants
- The lease should address criminal activity of tenant or tenant guests, which can result in the termination of residency
- Encourage apartment crime watch participation and engage with local police
- Create a monthly newsletter which solicits reports of alarming activity and communicates crime prevention tips
Schedule and Document Monitoring of Area Crime
- Review published neighborhood crime statistics and compare those to your level of security controls. Consider enhancement of security controls as needed. This process should be conducted and documented at least quarterly, and more frequently in high crime areas.
- Ensure on-site vandalism, thefts, public disturbance reports or any reported crimes are handled appropriately and documented
Meet the Minimum Regulatory Requirements
- City and County Rental Housing Safety or “Crime Free” Ordinances
- State Multi-Family Housing Safety Statutes
Employee, Contractor and Tenant Selection
- Employee background checks include criminal and reference checks
- Use licensed and bonded contractors
- Each tenant is named on the lease with a background, criminal and reference check
- Property Manager monitors residences for unauthorized occupants
Create Physical Barriers and Deterrents
- Consider installing fences and gates in necessary areas in order to keep out intruders and deter crime
- Ensure that the fences and gates are in good condition or are fi xed so that an intruder cannot crawl under,through or over
- Change locks whenever a resident terminates their lease (moves out)
- Ensure that all doors have locks and that only appropriate personnel have access
- Make sure that all windows have locks
- Restrict building access to non-residents using call boxes, buzzers and/or concierge staffing (ideally 24/7)
- Ensure there is adequate lighting at all entrances, exits, walkways, parking areas, pools, playgrounds and other common areas that may be accessible to tenants
- Add motion sensor lighting in other dark areas and on sidewalks
- Make sure your facility has emergency lighting in the event of a power outage
- Consider burglar alarms for restricted building areas or common areas (i.e. roof access door alarms, motion detectors in laundry rooms after hours, etc.)
- Any alarm system should be monitored by a UL listed central station monitoring company that has 24/7 response and the ability to quickly contact local authorities
- Consider installation of camera systems such as CCTV and motion based cameras. Typically, monitored areas may include entrances, exits, parking lots, courtyards, recreation facilities, general common areas, elevators, etc.
- Select remotely accessible systems which are recorded on a local hard drive or a web-based platform
- Require job references and criminal background checks from the guard company used
- Clearly outline the guard’s duties in writing
- Hired guard company contracts should include indemnification in favor of the property
- Require detailed written activity logs for review and filing
- Be aware of local and state laws regarding use of force, weapons, and other regulations relating to private security
- Consider patrolling of premises, with special focus on remote areas and vacant units/buildings
Self-Inspections to Identify Vulnerabilities
- Conduct self-inspections on a regular basis, including considering weekly inspections in higher crime areas
- Maintain landscaping, as overgrown trees and shrubs provide potential hiding places for criminals
- Make sure any construction areas are properly secured
- Focus on vacant units and/or buildings, ensure that lighting and physical protection features are functional and security is adequate
- Develop a security checklist
1. Langton, Lynn. Planty, Michael. Truman, Jennifer. “Criminal Victimization, 2012”. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (October 2013): 1-2. http://1.usa.gov/1fW4hvT