Break-ins and burglaries can hurt communities in more ways than one. Learn how to give the homeowners in your HOA peace of mind from a safe community with these useful measures, tips, and best practices for optimizing security.
Optimizing neighborhood security is an increasingly important issue for HOAs, their boards of directors, and the association managers. But is it possible to assess, plan for, and improve personal and community security?
Analyzing Criminal Risk Exposure in Your HOA
Boards of directors must respond quickly to reported risks or suspected criminal activities as part of their fiduciary duty to their members. If a problem is reported –or even simply foreseeable– and the board doesn’t act, the board members can be held liable. However, before shelling out money on security programs, it’s important for HOAs to assess their risks and develop realistic solutions best suited for their particular property.
Often times many boards or a committee either perform their own walk-through security assessment or ask local law enforcement for assistance. This can be very helpful in identifying risks with simple solutions, especially for smaller HOAs. However, if your HOA has experience a series of break-ins, vandalisms, or faces some other high security threat, professional consultation may provide a more thorough assessment for your community. Being a board member is a voluntary job, so professional expertise is understandable and can be extremely helpful.
For instance, a professional consultation may not be effective for isolated instances of crime (such as some graffiti or a single broken window), and could just prove a costly expense for the HOA. However, when muggings, repeated break-ins and theft occur, the HOA can greatly benefit both financially and psychologically from expert advice.
Overall, HOAs should seek well-planned, effective, and affordable security plans that do not diminish a community’s livability.
The Property Security Assessment
A comprehensive security assessment should provide an HOA board a laundry list of information. First, it identifies the vulnerabilities and exposures on the property which either have led or can lead to security issues. Second, it documents effective solutions available to an HOA, as well as a planned course of action and anticipated costs. And lastly, the assessment should give the board and association management confidence in their means to achieve a safer community.
Whether your board of directors plans on performing the assessment themselves or hiring a professional consultant, the first step should be an on-site inspection of the HOA’s property.
On-Site Security Inspection
An on-site inspection should include a walking of the grounds, common areas, and—both inside and out—at least two typical units. Also consider interviewing a sample of homeowners or tenants to gain insight on any concerns or security risks evident in their daily routines.
Basic on-site security inspections should answer the following questions:
- What are the HOA’s security exposures and vulnerabilities?
- Are entry doors solid core and installed with deadbolts and eyeholes?
- Are door strike-plates secured with 3” screws to prevent being kicked or forced open?
- Are locks re-keyed and not moved to another unit or amenity building? (This is more broadly relevant to a rental community than to ownership units)
- Are all keys for common area facilities closely controlled and accounted for?
- Are door jambs constructed with solid wood and free of any rot, breaks, cracks or other damage?
- Do all windows, including those on the second floor, close properly and are they equipped with locks?
- Are sliding door locks intact? Do they have more than one lock to prevent lifting the doors out of their tracks?
- Are the outdoors areas of the HOA complex well lit? (Good lighting should be the norm at all entrances and dark areas, including open parking areas and garages)
- Are shrubs and other landscaping trimmed to discourage hiding for an intruder?
- Is there control over who enters and leaves the building or association property?
- Are fire stairs locked from the outside so that residents can exit but others cannot enter?
- Are mailboxes and public areas well lit and equipped with good locks?
- Is the property well maintained? Are burnt-out light bulbs replaced promptly, landscaping maintained, and graffiti removed immediately?
- Are residents in the complex trustworthy neighbors who watch out for each other?
- Is there a “Neighborhood Watch Program? (We’ll discuss this later in the article.)
Some of these questions the board can answers themselves, while others may require a professional opinion.
Cost of a Security Assessment
The typical cost of a complete written security assessment for a condominium complex starts at about $1,500 and can run to $5,000. The cost of recommendations including other services, equipment, or stationing of on-site security personnel is additional.
Reviewing and Finalizing the Document
Before finalizing an assessment, the board should review a draft report, and may even consider an attorney’s review. If an HOA used professional services, this document should include the risks, vulnerabilities, and recommendations of the professional consultant. Keep in mind that the final assessment document can be used as legal evidence in litigation.
Other Security Solutions for HOAs
After addressing the risks from the security assessment, consider implementing these programs and practices to help deter criminal activity and protect homeowners if crime does occur.
Neighborhood Watch – The Frontline of Community Security
With the increasing size of HOAs (especially condominium complexes), neighbor-to-neighbor interaction is lower than ever. Yet, neighbors can be a community’s first line of defense. If a strange person is walking around your neighbor’s home, or a group of unfamiliar faces are hanging around the parking lot, alert neighbors can address this issue by either contacting the homeowner or authority.
Every resident in a community association should be aware of who belongs on the property and who doesn’t. While this may seem logistically difficult to achieve, Neighborhood Watch and a welcoming committee can help meet this objective.
Informing neighbors when going on vacation or a business trip, reporting to law enforcement and informing neighbors of any unusual or suspicious activity in the community, and simply looking at what’s going on outside of our homes can be a big help to detect and deter crime.
Useful Security Tips
In addition to neighborhood awareness, HOA boards have a whole toolbox of ways to enhance neighborhood security. These include:
- Maintaining and upgrading (when possible) the overall appearance and upkeep of a community
- Keeping close cooperation with local law enforcement
- Removing any graffiti promptly
- Directing residents to call law enforcement instead of board members or the manager when suspicious activity occurs
- Working to help neighbors know and recognize one another (community events, newsletters, etc.)
- Making sure parking space numbers do not match house numbers
When each of these measures are combined and coordinated, they become a more powerful deterrent for criminal activity.
Professional consultants can provide Standard Operating Procedures customized to meet an association’s requirements and can help the board prioritize security enhancements. Implementation includes training and orientation in recommended systems.
Other services include providing access to qualified and dependable resources and background checks of contractors, vendors, and prospective association employees.
So, can an HOA effectively improve its community’s safety and security? The answer is yes. It may require professional services, or perhaps just heads-up neighbors. Whatever your association may need, there are options available.
Adapted from an article by Larry Mesplé, editor for a newsletter management firm. Information provided by Ken Carlisle, consultant for a business protection service. Image adapted from photo by ThatsaBigIf, CC BY 2.5