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How safe is safe enough?

How Safe Is Safe Enough?

The dictionary defines "security" as freedom from danger or harm, protection, safety, preservation, support, care, peace of mind.

Common sense and an awareness of life in 1989 tells us that security is, in reality, a myth, an allegorical interpretation of everyman's dream of peace and harmony. Yet one of the most common questions asked by a prospective renter when viewing a property is, "Do you have security?" (With a capital "S"!)

We in property management, on the other hand, cringe when we hear that question, for two reasons: First, because individually, we also desire security. Secondly, we know that by and large, we can only offer partial security at the very best.

The security dilemma

Properties everywhere are faced with the identical paradox, that of needing to offer some sort of promise of protection and a grave reluctance to be held responsible for another's loss of privacy or of property.

This dilemma has been handled in a number of ways. Many owners and management companies simply avoid the issue altogether and adopt a policy of hands off. In order to avoid any legal responsibility, some managers hire a "property monitor" or "courtesy guard," or lease an apartment to a police officer at low rates. Aside from assisting management in the delivery of late notices and dealing with bumptious residents, these protectors do not really accomplish much.

Although there is no foolproof answer to providing resident security, there are definitely things managers can do to alleviate some aspects of the security problem:

* Education of both residents and personnel.

* "Crime watch" activities on site (this requires a high degree of resident relationship).

* Installation of security systems or intrusion detection devices.


Educating ourselves and our residents in security precautions takes a giant stride in providing safety. Most of us are security conscious enough so that we no longer are careless about unlocked doors and windows, but many residents still advertise their work schedule or vacation plans to would-be intruders by failing to leave lights connected to timers which turn on and off at intervals in more than one room.

While it is true that a professional thief can find a way in nearly anywhere he or she is determined to enter, about 97 percent of the breaking and entering crimes are committed by amateurs. These break-ins are crimes of opportunity, which generally take place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The individual who plans to enter is looking for easy access, low risk, and a high probability of easily portable valuables. Making it difficult for such a person will cause him or her to think twice.

One must also be on the lookout for hidden danger, would-be attackers concealed under a stairwell or shrouded by trees or shrubbery. Unlocked vehicles are a favorite of some rapists, and attackers have been known to lie in wait beneath a parked car.

Tenants should be taught some of the following guidelines:

* Do not open your door to strangers when they ask to use the telephone due to an emergency. Make a call for them.

* If you are a woman at home alone, pretend that you have a male companion there with you. Just before answering the door, call out, "I'll get it, John."

* If you arrive home and suspect that someone has been inside, do not go in. Go to a phone, and summon police.

* Install a chain on the inside of the door, and keep it on.

* Check the identity of maintenance or repair personnel. Many properties now issue I.D. tags with photos.

* Make sure windows and doors can be locked securely and that patio doors have "charley bars" or pins.

* Go to the laundry or mailbox during daylight hours whenever possible.

* Do not put your full name on the mailbox.

* Do not give information out to unknown telephone callers.

* Do not allow children to answer phones until they are old enough to demonstrate responsibility.

* Keep your keys in your hands ready to unlock the automobile or front door when coming or going.

* Always lock cars, even if you are just stopping for a few moments.

* If approached by an unknown person, ask them what they want. If the answer is not satisfactory, start yelling or screaming as loud as possible.

Management can also follow some simple rules to increase security.

* Use 1-inch locks on all apartment entrance doors. Medeco is the best, but also the most expensive, and therefore not generally practical for apartment use. It offers greater key security as keys are difficult to duplicate, and the lock is "pick proof." Schlage and Arrow are also both good.

A Weiser (they have improved their locks, they are heavier now) or Kwickset can offer good security, but their value depends on the length of the screws used in installation. The screws need to go all the way into the studs or the door may easily be kicked in.

Many apartments are now using passage knobs only for entry and exit, to encourage residents to use the deadbolt locks.

* Reinforce door frames.

* Have a good peephole viewer (180-degree viewing angle).

* Change locks between residents.

* Monitor floodlights at parking lots and walkways, and check hallway lights on a regular basis. (Preventive maintenance teams could add this to their list of duties.)

* Keep shrubbery low at windows and parking areas. Low plantings prevent an assailant from using shrubbery as a hiding place.

"Crime watch"

Encouraging residents to get to know one another well and to watch out for each other's safety is highly desirable, though not an easy task to accomplish. Using a property newsletter to create a feeling of community can be helpful in this regard. However, tell tenants to call police or management if they see suspicious activity, not to try and intervene. Neighborhood crime watch organizations may offer some help, depending on your local area.

Intrusion detection devices

Due to the rapid rise in crime, apartment communities have begun to utilize various types of security systems and devices to aid both in protection of their residents and prevention of crime-related lawsuits. There have been several landmark cases in which owners have been held liable for insufficient protection of residents. While these cases have centered on personal assault and rape, the means to prevent such occurrences are also pertinent to burglary.

There are several types of security systems offered to the apartment industry. Although highly visible, entry gates, whether with coded keypad, card entry, or a guard on duty, do not provide the cogent type of protection offered by individually responsive, unit-by-unit alarm devices.

There are two principal types of such alarms - a hard-wire device, which uses dedicated wires connected to an alarm, and a wireless method, which generally uses radio waves to connect the detection devices to an alarm. In both cases, the alarm may also be connected to a monitored system which then connects to a communication device.

A monitored system offers 24-hour surveillance of possible break-ins or calls for help from units. Most systems have a method of periodic checking, a sort of technological dialogue that goes something like this: "Are you OK?" "Yes, I'm OK." This electronic message repeats endlessly unless there is a different response, at which time the system responds.

An unmonitored system is really little more than a noisemaker and a prayer for brotherhood. An alarm goes off and, hopefully, scares away any potential intruder, and arouses one's neighbors to action on one's behalf.

Residents will receive a callback from the monitoring center within moments after the alarm is tripped. If the person who answers the phone is unable to identify themselves with the correct code or if there is no answer, the appropriate action is taken by the monitoring center, and authorities are notified.

There are similarities in most of these systems. Alarms are triggered in one of three ways. Many systems respond when a window or door has been opened and the alarm circuit broken. This system is useful in preventing entry through conventional egress areas, but is not effective if burglars enter through ceilings or less common areas.

Other systems use motion detectors and go off if motion occurs in what should be an unoccupied area. (Note that motion detectors are usually placed at a level high enough not to be triggered by a pet.) Generally, the user can also trigger the alarm with either type of device.

Many systems come with the option of a silent alarm, which allows the resident to alert the monitoring service or police without disclosing to an intruder that they are awake or at home. Other options will inform the resident which window or door has been opened, whether the system is armed or disarmed at any time, and whether the system is operating correctly.

Many systems include an independent power supply to ensure operation in case of electrical failure. Other features often incorporated into an alarm system (usually at additional cost) are fire alarms and smoke detectors, medical alert codes, and intruder codes. Some units come with a bedside alarm to allow a user to set off the alarm from bed. Some systems allow the user to arm the system using an 800 number and a touch-tone phone.

To assist in apartment maintenance, some systems also offer special "beepers" for repair personnel, which allow them to disarm the system for a short period (often 30 minutes) while repairs are made.

The considerations a manager needs to make regarding the addition of some form of security system are:

* degree of possible effectiveness ("cosmetic" amenity or genuine asset?),

* cost and ease of installation,

* ease of use for residents,

* legal and financial liability,

* timing (how long before system is operative?), and

* physical alteration of structure (wiring, attachment, and so forth).


Statistics have shown that apartment communities with some form of security systems generally command approximately 12 percent higher rent rates and enjoy an average of nearly 7 percent greater occupancy. It would seem, then, that in order to keep abreast of the changing wants and needs of apartment dwellers, security is the first amendment to any list of amenities considered by owners and managers.

It is with great appreciation that I extend my sincere thanks to those who helped me with information and facts for this article: Douglas Hunt of Datavision, Gibson Amstutz of Network Multi-Family, Marty Topper of Topper Control Systems, and John Collings of U.S. Alert.

Geri Taran, ARM[R], is an Atlanta correspondent for National Real Estate Investor. She has been active in Atlanta's Apartment Owners and Managers Association over the last few years as an on-site manager and Associate member. She is presently the editor of Network, the AOMA Associates Newsletter, and is a member of the Associates Council.

A Set of Alternative Locks

Tenant turnover is nothing new to managers of residential property. But in today's overbuilt commercial marketplace, office tenants, too, are being wooed away by the promise of lower rents and better amenities. The result is a highly mobile society, moving from apartment to condo and from urban offices to upgraded space, sometimes from the city to an office park environment.

This high tenant turnover forces commercial facilities managers to become increasingly concerned about securing their buildings. With keys changing hands among tenants as well as security and maintenance staffs, controlling access, both into a building and into the various offices within it, has never been more critical.

There are many security devices available, including the traditional mechanical keys and locks, high-security mechanical locks, hard-wired access control systems, and microprocessor-based electronic locks. Each of these security systems fills a certain set of requirements; a facility manager's first job is to assess his or her specific security needs.

Mechanical locks and keys

Mechanical keys and locks have been in existence since 2000 B.C. and are the most widely used security devices on the market. They are relatively inexpensive, reliable, and easy to use. Keys, however, are not only easy to duplicate; they are easy to lose. Mechanical locks can also be picked. All too often, doors are simply left unlocked. These are drawbacks which can interfere with a facility's overall level of security.

To maintain security, mechanical door locks should be rekeyed immediately whenever a key is lost or is stolen. This procedure is both time-consuming and expensive, costing as much as $20 to $35 per door and requiring an average of 30 minutes a door to rekey.

Master keys, which can often open hundreds of locks, can cost a facility thousands of dollars if lost. When they are lost, a manager must make a decision whether to spend a considerable sum of money to resecure the facility or to live with an increased level of risk. Budgetary constraints often force the manager to live with the latter alternative.

High-security locks

Many managers turn to pick-resistant, high-security locks, which utilize unique key blanks and cylinder units that are carefully controlled by lock manufacturers and distributors to make the duplication of an existing key extremely difficult. This increased key control can be cumbersome, though, and this solution does not address the problem of finding a way to decrease incidents of key loss.

Hard-wired access

control systems

Hard-wired access control systems are commonly comprised of key pads or card readers located near openings, which are protected by electromechanical devices. These systems are often used in corporate and industrial properties.

More sophisticated access control systems are controlled by a central computer, which is hard wired to each opening and can monitor each lock on a real-time basis. Systems tied to a central computer usually have the ability to instantly lock and unlock openings via the central computer. Some can track the movement of individuals within the building by recording the time and location of an entry using a particular card. Closed-circuit TV, motion detectors, and alarm systems are other options included with such systems. Users of these sophisticated systems often receive a comprehensive printed record of all entries.

The disadvantage of sophisticated access control systems lies in their cost, and the fact that they usually require complex hard-wiring work. Administrators are often forced to choose between mechanical locks and access control systems because of budgetary restrictions.

Electronic locking systems

Microprocessor-based electronic locks are positioned between mechanical locks and access control systems. Electronic locking systems usually comply with the American Banking Association standards for magnetic stripe credit cards. A computer is used to encode access information onto the credit card-like keycards. The user passes the card through a microprocessor-controlled lock, which decodes the information and grants access if all entry parameters are met.

These electronic systems can instantaneously differentiate between old and new keycards by checking combinations and authorized entry times against their own databank of which keycards should be admitted. The locks may be automatically recombinated by the cardholder upon use of the new card in the lock. In the case of key loss, a manager can recombinate up to 250 locks in less than an hour.

Advanced electronic locking systems are capable of creating print reports which show a record of all key making activity. Some systems offer locks that can maintain extensive records of user access.

Other options include the ability to control individuals' access by time and date. These "intelligent" locks can even lock and unlock themselves automatically without user intervention.

Most microprocessor-based electronic locks cost from between $300 to $700 per door. Installation of electronic locking systems is inexpensive because they can be installed in standard door preparations. No hard wiring is needed.


Mechanical keys and locks, high-security locks, access control systems, and microprocessor-based electronic locks all continue to serve well in specific applications. Each has its role in providing cost-effective levels of security for a given property.

Peter Arezzini is commercial marketing manager for Schlage Lock Company. During his nine years with San Francisco-based Schlage, he has also held the position of manager of manufacturing engineering and was instrumental in developing, coordinating, and implementing new Schlage manufacturing technologies.
COPYRIGHT 1989 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:rental building security
Author:Taran, Geri
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:May 1, 1989
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