Residential landlord safety has become a growing concern in many communities. Whether previewing vacant properties as potential investments, investigating tenant problems, or merely collecting rents, landlords are often exposed to potentially dangerous situations while in the field. Here are four steps to improving residential landlord safety and tips that can reduce safety risks.
1. Assess The Risks
Regardless of whether the property you’re visiting is a possible acquisition or one you already own and know well, assess the potential risks involved at that particular site prior to arriving. There are two types of risks: 1) general risks that are threats to anyone in the area and 2) specific risks that make you a potential target due to your reason for visiting the property.
General risks are typically easy to determine. If the neighborhood has an overall high crime rate, you may need to be concerned with any number of violent crimes, such as carjacking, mugging or assault.
Specific risks relate to your business at the property, especially when you’re collecting rent, investigating a problem tenant, or removing coins from laundry machines in a multi-family complex. Attacks might be motivated by anger regarding a lease issue or could occur because you are assumed to be carrying money. An example of a specific personal risk is the unfortunate shooting death of a landlord in Escondido, CA in April 2013 during an argument over past-due rent. Visiting a vacant property has its own special risks, such as run-ins with aggressive squatters or interrupting thieves trying to steal copper pipes.
2. Be Prepared
Landlords may want to consider these precautions before heading into the field:
– Install a safety app on your smart phone that will send an emergency message to a list of people and 911 if you are in immediate danger (use an app that allows you to pre-enter the address you’re visiting or the address is automatically entered into your message via GPS)
– Drive an inconspicuous vehicle. Leave the Bentley at home – unless you have a driver/bodyguard that comes with it.
– Wear inconspicuous attire. Like your car, your clothing can say a lot about you, such as “I’m rich, rob me!” Dress appropriately based on your assessment of the risk.
– Let people know where you’re going and when you expect to return or call in.
– Carry personal defense items if you have proper training and they are legal in your specific area, such as a taser, pepper spray, etc.
– Learn basic personal defense techniques (more on that in the next section).
3. Move Tactically
OK, we’re not parachuting into darkness twenty miles behind enemy lines to conduct covert reconnaissance on a secret factory producing weapons of mass destruction – we’re just looking at property we might buy or meeting with a tenant. But if our residential landlord safety risk assessment suggests potential danger, we should move about the property with caution and apply some simple, common-sense safety techniques.
– Keep your smart phone in your hand with the emergency app running. When danger strikes, there is usually no time to fumble for it in your purse or pocket.
– Bring a buddy. I often schedule maintenance work at a location where I plan to address a problem with a tenant. If nothing needs to be repaired, I’ll find someone to come along anyway if I believe the risk warrants it.
– Have your buddy or a third person make a video of your visit. This is sometimes a good tactic for keeping danger at bay, but it may also be useful later when a tenant falsely accuses you of doing or saying something improper.
– Don’t follow a routine. Don’t be the landlord who picks up rents the same exact time on the same specific day each month or that harvests the coins from the laundry at the same time and day every week.
– Look, listen, walk. It’s how we learned to cross a street. When approaching a property, look and listen for signs of danger and retreat if you see or hear them. If you have a 6th sense about danger, pay attention to it.
– When walking past a doorway or area you can’t see into, walk wide of it.
– Keep your buddy in sight. When entering a building, don’t walk past where your buddy can see you or where you can see them.
– Don’t go inside a home or apartment unless you have to. Whenever possible, collect the rent or handle your business with the tenant at the door or ask the tenant to step outside. If you must go inside, leave the exterior door open and have your buddy stand in the doorway where you can see each other.
– If an attack comes, knowing basic self defense can help you escape. If a tenant or someone else on the property appears to be taking a threatening posture, get out of there immediately before danger strikes. But if the strike is unforeseen and you are assaulted, do what you can to defend yourself and GET OUT. Let the police take it from there. Even if you’re an accomplished martial artist and are likely to win in any engagement, you don’t want the legal liabilities that come with getting into a physical altercation with a tenant. Just get out. You can come back later with the police to finish your business, if necessary.
4. Get Professional Help
Speaking of the police… it’s sometimes possible to get a police escort to a property if 1) you can explain why danger may be present and 2) the police have the resources to support you. Cordon Real Estate offers “problem tenant services” (property management services) that include collecting from tenants who are chronically late with their rent, investigating complaints against tenants from neighbors, inspecting properties that may be abused by tenants, and investigating tenants who are suspected of conducting illegal activity on the premises. We caution landlords that it’s never too early to share concerns about a tenant with the police, since the police often come into contact with problem tenants long before the landlord begins to see a problem.
I hope you found these residential landlord safety tips helpful – they can also apply to commercial and industrial landlords. As Sergeant Esterhaus used to say before sending his cops onto the street in TV’s Hill Street Blues,
“Let’s be careful out there.”
Helpful residential landlord safety links:
The Home Security Superstore: portable alarms and home security devices
Wireless doormat alarm: great example of a portable doormat alarm
Amazon.com floor alarm: floor mat security alarm
Damsel In Defense: personal defense items
Santa Clara Kenpo Academy: effective martial arts training in Silicon Valley
National Association of REALTORS® Safety: agent safety information from NAR