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The rape crisis in apartment management.

The Rape Crisis in Apartment Management

Authorities estimate that at least one of every three women will experience a rape or an attempted rape sometime during her life. When a rape occurs in an apartment property, the victim may claim personal and punitive damages if the owner or property manager is proved negligent.

Damage claims may approach several million dollars. Three rapes of tenants by an apartment maintenance supervisor resulted in damage claims of $8 million. A single Atlanta, Georgia, attorney has recently filed 14 damage claims against apartment owners and managers for rapes committed in apartment units.

On-premises rape must be combatted with both preventive measures and a rape crisis emergency plan.

Understanding rape

Before preparing an emergency procedure for rape incidents, the property manager must develop an understanding of this crime.

Certain unfounded, invalid beliefs about rape and rape victims make it difficult to enforce rape crisis procedures. For example, at one property a security guard failed to follow rape crisis measures because there were no signs of violence in the apartment and the victim showed no physical signs of harm or injury. In his view, the rape probably did not occur, even though the victim made a police report.

Other erroneous beliefs include:

* When a woman says "no," she really means "yes."

* Women love to be seduced by force.

* Nice girls never get raped.

* Most rapes follow encounters with strangers in a dark alley (street rape).

* Rapist use weapons to force submission.[1]

Studies have shown that attacked women who have successfully escaped rape have three lines of defense - yelling, running, or, if they have the ability, responding with active resistance. In each case, the woman must consider the situation and may conclude that it is better to be raped than to be killed.

In an apartment, however, nonforced entry by employees who have apartment keys may prevent the tenant from following these common defenses. Hence the apartment manager must adopt all necessary steps to minimize the possibility of an on-premises rape and provide for a rape crisis plan.

Preventive procedures

Consider the management deficiencies of a 280-unit adult complex where a rape by a maintenance supervisor led to a $600,000 settlement. The rape victim charged:

* that the management failed to rekey apartments (at a cost of $4,200) after two rapes with nonforced entry,

* that management failed to make a criminal background check (cost, $40) in hiring a maintenance supervisor convicted of automobile theft and an apartment burglary, and

* that management failed to alert tenants about further rapes on the advice of their own security guard.[2]

In this example, management negligence took three forms: first, negligent hiring practices; second, negligent supervision; and third, negligence in providing tenant security.

Negligent hiring refers to the failure to reasonably inquire into backgrounds of job applicants before employment. This point is particularly critical for onsite employees of residential projects. Giving the master key to a maintenance supervisor who has a past record of felony convictions or a history of drug abuse may subject the property manager and owner to damage claims and to rising vacancy rates.

Generally speaking, it has been held that onsite personnel hold sensitive positions of trust. This concept is particularly true for employees that are given or have access to master keys. Certainly these are positions of trust that warrant background studies to ensure that master key holders will be unlikely to commit crimes against the apartment project or against tenants.

To guard against undesirable applicants, the property manager may solicit information on past court convictions, arrest records, or jail or penal sentences. The employment application is critical to avoiding liability for negligent hiring. Such forms should be reviewed by local counsel for compliance with fair employment practices.

If questions on past convictions are not included on an application form, frequently the same information may be elicited from the job interview. However, to ensure employment, an applicant may fail to list past convictions, arrests, or sentences served. Unless the property manager verifies information given in the job application or interview, the management and property owner may be liable for damages because of negligent hiring practices.

State crime information centers will have past records of convictions. The National Crime Information Center, administered by the FBI, maintains other detailed criminal records. Contact your local police for access to these files. Employee application forms should include waivers to allow employers access to these personal records.

This policy was affirmed by a Minnesota Supreme Court decision in the case of a tenant rape by the resident manager of a 198-unit apartment complex. The property management firm did not verify his past arrest and conviction record. On the job application, he admitted to only "traffic ticket arrests." At the time of hiring, the applicant was on parole from a prison sentence for numerous convictions of theft and armed robbery. With this background, which could easily have been verified, he was issued a passkey to 198 apartments.

The court concluded:

"Liability is predicated on the negligence of an employer in placing a person with known propensities, or propensities which should have been discovered by reasonable investigation, in an employment position in which, because of the circumstances of the employment, it should have been foreseeable that the hired individual posed a threat of injury to others."

In short, as summarized by the court, the landlord has a duty to use reasonable care in the hiring of an employee who may pose a threat of injury to tenants.[3]

Negligent supervision

A strong management team also helps to avert a rape crisis. The responsible manager who inspects each apartment project at least once a month learns management weakness that may endanger tenant security.

Clearly, loose administration practices such as failure to re-key promptly and sloppy maintenance of lighting and other security features gives potential rapists unrestricted access to prospective rape victims. If such a management organization is coupled with a relatively high turnover among resident managers and maintenance personnel, the problem is compounded.

Weak onsite management leads to a top management that is uninformed about accepted security procedures, poor hiring procedures, inadequate key controls, and no prescribed action in the event of emergencies, including on-premise rapes.

Foremost among measures that discourage rapists is the administration of key controls. First, onsite personnel should be given access to master keys only if it is absolutely necessary. Resident managers have been known to give prospective tenants the master key to inspect vacant apartments. Such loose control of the master key invites rapes and other crimes, leading to costly damage claims.

Other apartment managers allow maintenance supervisors to have unrestricted access to key duplicating machines. A maintenance supervisor, who was later convicted of tenant rape, was found to possess master keys to several apartment projects where he was formerly employed. Indeed, the potential for breaching tenant security by the loose administration of master keys may lead management to abandon the concept of a master key.

One apartment complex has recently withdrawn all master keys, re-keyed all locks, and provided tenants with a new key with a duplicate held in the management office. No apartment is inspected or entered for maintenance without notification of tenants. The duplicate key must be signed out by onsite personnel. No master keys are provided. According to one authority: "No master keys should be available on the property."[4]

Management is advised to keep two duplicate keys in a locked compartment. The last key is never given out. Persons must sign out all keys, which are marked with a code and not the apartment number. Under a master key system, however, a lost master key or departing employee usually requires re-keying of all apartments.

Rape crisis planning

In addition to implementing procedures to prevent rapes, management should develop procedures for onsite personnel to follow when a suspected rape is reported. The rape crisis plan assigns job responsibilities to employees and establishes a plan of action for every rape occurrence. Preferably the "rape crisis plan" should be part of an operations and policy manual (Figure 1). There it would serve as a permanent reference.

After advising police of the suspected rape, resident managers must ensure that the victim is safe and receives immediate medical attention if needed. Police should be able to provide information on rape crisis centers and other facilities equipped to treat the physical and psychological problems resulting from rape.

Certainly if the rape is the result of a nonforced entry, management should immediately re-key each apartment. A project of 280 units, catering to adult tenants (60 percent were single women), failed to re-key female-occupied apartments at a cost of $1,620. Apartments were re-keyed only after two rapes had occurred over six months, both with nonforced entry. The occupancy rate

fell from over 90 percent to 71 percent. The failure to re-key the project led to expensive litigation and damage claims besides the loss of rents.

It is also the responsibility of property managers to make an in-house investigation of the crime. Such an investigation would show the possible need for added security measures, negligence of onsite personnel, or poor management procedures in administering key controls. Further background checks on onsite personnel may be another recommended procedure.

In addition, tenant advisories should be issued which would remind tenants to keep their apartment keys secure and follow certain precautionary measures in securing their units. Some managers have offered to escort tenants to and from their automobiles during hours of darkness. Figure 2 summarizes a list of advice to tenants on improving their safety.

The tenant advisory should make tenants aware of "good neighbor" security measures. Tenants should be warned to know who their neighbors are and report suspicious persons or occurrences. They should be encouraged to ask strangers who they are visiting and if they need help. In one case, a rapist poured water under the door and then gained entry by explaining the need to repair a purporated water leak.

Tenants should be asked to call police or the manager if they see furniture being moved unless they know a tenant is actually moving. Tenant teams may be formed to assist tenants who need special escorts to and from the parking lot. Tenants should be reminded to ask managers to change locks if a roommate or companion moves out.

It is management's responsibility to correct any reported deficiencies in lighting, locks, entry, or alarm systems. Parking and public areas should be well lighted. Staff should undertake regular inspections and make tests and preventive repairs for security facilities. Door viewers, deadbolt locks, and extra locks on ground-level windows and patio doors may be advised.

Tenants should mark mail boxes only with first initials and the last name. Reserved parking spaces or parking stickers must not identify the project, apartment number, or tenant name. Tenants must inform the staff of persons who are violating the no-solicitor rule.

Public relations

Suppose you are confronted with a tenant who reports a rape. The tenant claims management has been negligent in some way. What can you expect from tenant counsel who brings action for damages?

You may expect that the tenant counsel will be an experienced trial lawyer. In some metropolitan areas, there are attorneys who specialize in rape cases. They know the case law governing rapes. They know how to present the facts to the jury to maximize damage claims, and they pursue every detail that supports the tenant's claim for damages.

Tenant counsel will depose the management staff, including leasing agents, security personnel, the resident manager, maintenance staff, and others who have management duties. They will employ expert medical witnesses that will describe the physical and psychological damage before the jury. They will have professionally prepared exhibits including photographs of the apartment project, building plans, and apartment layout. They will employ expert locksmiths and security experts to testify on the soundness of the tenant security measures. They will interview other tenants to gain information on management practices and procedures.

Because the awards are in the thousands, or even millions, money will be available to prepare the strongest possible case against the apartment owner and management. Unfavorable newspaper publicity presents another problem difficult to overcome in the immediate future.

For these reasons, special attention must be given to public relations. In the rape crisis plan, one person should be designated to provide information to reporters. The newspaper should not be given information which is not verified and proven in court. A tenant advisory should be issued and circulated to every tenant.

The best advice seems to recommend informing tenants that a rape has occurred. Tenants are then advised to take special precautions to minimize the possibility of another rape.

Add the point that, while management is taking every precaution to prevent rape reoccurrence, tenants provide their own best protection by cooperating in reporting unusual and suspicious looking visitors. Add further that tenants should avoid taking unnecessary risks such as leaving patio doors unlocked or opening accessible windows. Tenants should be warned to keep their apartments locked at all times.

To be sure, tenant security is not solely a problem of installing state-of-the-art security hardware. The combination of the tenants' conduct and management skills will provide the safest possible habitat. In this regard, management may contribute to tenant security by paying close heed to security measures - measures that assume greater importance in a litigious society with today's high crime rate.


Rape crisis management starts with rape prevention measures. Figure 3 outlines some essential steps to minimize rape opportunities. Note that the apartment project must have adequate security facilities. The security-related hardware includes locking devices and alarm monitoring systems, which must be compatible with project architecture, tenant profile, and other factors.(5)

Even with this precaution, background checks of employees minimize the chance of negligent hiring. There must be rape crisis planning so that all employees follow preplanned procedures. Finally, property managers must be prepared to issue tenant advisories that cover ways in which tenants may protect themselves from rapists. Tenants must be reminded that management and tenants cooperate in providing a safe, habitable, and pleasant living environment.

Public relations after an incident are equally important. A designated management staff member must be appointed to communicate with the press and the tenant community. The public relations program should be designed to minimize the impact of a rape crisis.

Finally, it will be noted that rape prevention and rape crisis planning assume an acceptable degree of security. Without these plans in place, property managers can protect neither their tenants, their owners, nor themselves from harm.

Notes [1.] Dr. Mary Harvey, "Rape," Harvard Medical School Health Letter, August 1988, p. 4. [2.] Duane Riner, "Rape Victim Wins $600,000 Settlement; Apartment Management Accused of Loose Security," The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 17, 1988, p. E3. [3.] Ponticas v. K.M.S. Investments, 331 N.E. 2d 907 (Minn. 1983). [4.] Dan Crace, "Safety and Security in Residential Properties," Journal of Property Management, Sept./Oct. 1981, p. 270. [5.] Robert Waldhuber, "Assessing Security Needs," Journal of Property Management, March/April 1987, pp. 36-39.

William M. Shenkel, CPM, is a professor in the Department of Legal Studies, Insurance and Real Estate, College of Business Administration, at the University of Georgia, Athens. A member of the IREM Academy of Authors, and the author of 14 college real estate textbooks, he has served as a real estate consultant in 22 states and four foreign countries. Mr. Shenkel recently returned from his third lecture tour in Italy where he taught at the University of Bologna and the University of Tuscia. He is one of three foreign members admitted to the National Society of Valuers and Regional Economists in Italy.
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Author:Shenkel, William M.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:May 1, 1989
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