Written By: "Tracey, the Safety Lady” Hawkins
Property Management Safety
The U.S. Department of Labor considers real estate sales and leasing a hazardous occupation. Property managers face many of the same dangers, and evictions are probably the most dangerous acts property managers must deal with, second only to showing prospective tenants properties.
In January of 2019, David Stokoe, a real estate agent, and property manager in Salt Lake City, Utah, was murdered by tenants as he sought to evict them. When Stokoe visited the property that evening, he was met with resistance when the tenants shot him and hid his body in the house. The tenants claimed that Stokoe was the aggressor. The couple has been arrested and charged with the murder.
Becky Hale, a real estate agent with Keller Williams, in Wichita, Kansas, launched her property management business recently and feels that this is a “rough profession” and regularly takes steps to eliminate the dangers with the support of her investor client. Hale is even more cautious because she was physically assaulted while working.
Kellie Tollifson, MPM® RMP®, Executive Vice President of Operations and Managing Broker for T-Square Properties, in Bothell, Washington, has a plan in place for safer evictions.
- Do occupancy checks in advance.
- Post notice for eviction.
- Assemble a team for the eviction. It can consist of 2 staff/team members, a moving, trash out or removal company and a locksmith.
- Call local law enforcement/police to meet the team at the property.
Tollifson, who is also the 2020 National Association of Residential Property Managers /NARPM® President, says in Washington State, they then only have one hour to empty the property. Law enforcement goes in first and will not allow the leasing agent inside until it is clear.
Screening is the first step to reduce the risks of problems and even criminal tenants. Dewayne Cosby and his wife and business partner, Stacey Johnson-Cosby, of Kansas City, Missouri, takes an old school approach to screen their potential tenants. They manage their own residential properties and advise calling the applicant’s current landlord yourself, in addition to a screening service. The most important question to ask, Johnson-Cosby says, is whether the landlord would rent to the prospective tenant again. If the answer is no, that is telling.
Dan Hilgedick, NARPM Member® and Owner/Operator of PMI (Property Management Inc.) KC Metro, in Blue Springs, Missouri, has been a PMI franchisee since October of 2019. He utilizes a company that does screenings to make sure prospects are qualified based on his criteria, including phone number verification and that the names and photos on driver’s licenses/ID matches records.
“If I must show a unit 20 times, this type of service saves time and prevents me from wasting time on no-shows and those not qualified. It is worth the cost.”
Tenant rights movements nationally are attempting to change the process and prevent criminal and rental history background information from being used by housing providers to screen tenants when applying to rent properties. Many landlords are concerned about renting to someone with a criminal history and who may pose a menace to neighbors as well as the landlords.
No Cash/Reduce Theft Risk
The property manager should make it clear that there is no cash on the premises and that cash is not accepted for rent. Prominent signage on the front door and throughout the office, along with the bold statement included on all invoices and rent notices, will make it clear. Electronic, online, and cash payment apps are good alternatives.
Safe Ways to Show
Cosby eliminates some of the risks of visiting the properties in higher crime areas by planning visits during daylight hours. Hale says she narrows her time to visit homes during daylight hours, as well, although during one daytime visit, she was physically assaulted by a neighbor.
A neighbor approached Hale because she had taken issue with her previous visit in which she chastised the behavior of her kids and the damage they allegedly did to the home she managed. Hale sustained severe head injuries. Cosby and Hilgedick say that usually having neighbors out and around adds another level of safety when out in neighborhoods.
Hales believes the rules of engagement include knowing what may go wrong and taking proper steps while showing. Hales allows the client to go in first, and she stays near the exit as clients tour. She pays attention to groups of visitors who split up and try to distract her. She relies on her “street-savvy.” Hilgedick counts on his gut instinct during phone calls when deciding who to show.
Leasing agents and property managers should be encouraged to leave expensive jewelry, handbags, and electronic devices at home to prevent robberies. For those who need to utilize their smartphones, they should be kept accessible. The careless act of leaving their phones on the desk exposes them to theft.
Hilgedick likes self-showings because the company he works with screens and makes sure prospective tenants are qualified and not just anyone off the street. Property managers should consider a self-showing process to view vacant units. Self-showing technology allows potential renters to schedule showings and access vacant units via a lockbox without the help of a property manager or leasing agent. (This, of course, is not an ideal method for showing occupied units.) These services also include a check-in system so property managers can keep an eye on which units are being viewed in real-time. The service should include a way to verify the identity of the prospective tenant so that there is a verified record in case of any mishap.
Securing the Property/Crime Prevention
Hilgedick disables the garage door until he can change the code when a tenant moves out. He also double checks the windows to ensure they are locked. “Securing windows in vacated units is also paramount to security. Most criminals won’t break windows because of the noise,” Cosby explains. “So, if the windows are locked tight, they’ll most likely move on”.
“I like keyless locks; however, they are more expensive and harder to convince owners to make the initial purchase and pay for installation. But they are the way to go.” After tenants move out, managers would simply change the code to prevent unauthorized entry, instead of having to wait for a locksmith and the accompanying expense.
Upon acquisition, Cosby immediately installs security lighting at his properties and makes it a practice not to allow shrubbery and landscaping, which could block the view of the property, including windows. Thieves often take cover during burglaries.
Use design elements to thwart would-be attacks at your property. Measures such as these are part of an aesthetic approach known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), which makes it easier for tenants to surveil their surroundings and harder for criminal activity to go unnoticed.
Utilize signage indicating there are surveillance cameras whether or not there are cameras installed. With the abundance of affordable cameras on the market, there is no reason not to have a high-quality camera. Only the tenant should be able to monitor any motion detectors due to privacy concerns.
Tenant Rights and Background Screening
Nationally tenant activists are working on getting criminal background histories eliminated as criteria for renting. Johnson-Cosby decided to get active when tenants nationwide started demanding the ability to rent regardless of their backgrounds/history. She founded and is the President of the Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance made up of REALTORS®, property managers, landlords, investors as housing providers to have a voice in shaping legislative policy, especially as it relates to housing provider’s ability to screen tenants based on their backgrounds; including criminal and rental eviction records.
As a result of recent City policy in Kansas City, landlords simply must be willing to talk to potential tenants and allow them to make their case. They cannot discriminate against those with criminal backgrounds and eviction history. According to Tollifson, in the State of Washington, housing providers are prohibited from screening for up to 7 years and cannot make their criminal history a variable. Sex offender status is not included in the screening.
Timothy L. Zehring, executive director of the International Crime Free Association advises property managers to seek to make tenants part of the crime-free solution. Housing providers can consider adding an addendum to lease agreements stating that tenants can be evicted for allowing or enabling criminal activity on the premises. Therefore, he says that if you do decide to evict a tenant because of a criminal violation on the property, this document will provide a solid legal defense.
Choose a technologically up-to-date smartphone safety app. The key is selecting an app with 24/7 live support, longevity in business, and a GPS feature. There is new technology that allows a selected property management company “monitor” to be alerted if a team member signals danger. They are able to see a video of them in real-time along with any medical issues of the team member and the GPS location in case law enforcement or first respondents are needed.
Safety During the COVID-19 Crisis
Tollifson says her company is working through the COVID-19 crisis by staying connected to the team while working remotely. She stresses that they take precautions to ensure that team member’s home computers will not pollute or infect the office by having them log in using remote, web-based software on a desktop computer to ensure company safety protocols are in place and tenant information is not jeopardized.
According to Tollifson, her team is remaining nimble and flexible while operating the “normal” course of business… “We resist freaking out due to all the new processes and protocols that have been implemented. We have been practicing and implementing social distancing in our showings of vacant rentals and lease signings.”
If they need to visit properties to show potential tenants, property managers are to disinfect all surfaces, leave doors and cabinets open to minimize touching, wear face masks, gloves, and booties (if it is occupied). During the crisis, Cosby said he avoids contact with tenants when possible. He recently picked up and delivered a refrigerator after the tenant left the door unlocked and stayed out of sight as he worked. When picking up rent in person, Cosby knows that he has the right to ask the tenant if they have symptoms of CV or been sick. He also wears a mask if he must see tenants while still exercising a safe distance. His background as a safety manager, explains the extra precautions.
Hilgedick states, “We are trying to avoid going into units at all right now. Unless it is an emergency or something that really needs to be done. In those situations, we are making sure that everyone is extremely cautious about touching things and keeping their distance.”
NARPM offers several classes, including a comprehensive risk management course and certification classes teaching property managers intimate knowledge about the industry. The International Crime Free Association and Safety and Security Source offers extensive safety training to property managers, leasing agents, rental property owners, and law enforcement. Visit www.safetyandsecuritysource.com for safety tip videos, handouts and information on training programs.
About the Author
“Tracey, the Safety Lady” Hawkins is a former real estate agent who has taught thousands of agents across the country to live and work safely for over 25 years. Hawkins is a regular safety expert/contributor for the National Association of REALTORS®, REALTOR® Magazine and realtor.org (she wrote the most-read article of the year in 2017). She created the country’s only real estate agent safety designation, the Consumer Safety and Security Specialist (CSSS), teaching agents to make more money working safely, and protecting the consumer. She also created the only broker, manager, and owner, office safety policy certification workshop with a handbook. She is regularly quoted in Inman’s real estate news, and has been featured in the Boston Globe, Quicken Loans’ Rocket Homes, the Washington Post, cnn.com, abcnews.com, Des Moines Register, the Kansas City Star, and ABC. She appears on television to discuss and review safety and security products and topics on CBS, NBC, FOX news affiliates, and MORE! Visit www.safetyandsecuritysource.com for safety tip videos, handouts and information on training programs.
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