Although most of the residents filling up student housing communities are fresh from home, some may have already committed crimes, and others are more likely to commit them while away from their families.
Students new to living on their own can be more likely to break lease terms, leave units in poor conditions, and allow unauthorized guests to stay with them in their new apartment, which can encourage crime and illegal activity in your community. This can damage the reputation of your student housing property, which will in turn affect your occupancy rates and income.
Don’t let improperly screened residents or inadequate security measures allow your student housing property to fall victim to on-property offenses. Simple safety measures and precautions can be taken to ensure that your neighbors and residents are safer in their homes, and that student housing owners, developers and operators have all of the information needed to make the right leasing decisions.
Real Estate Investors George Pino and Joe Killinger of Learning Links Centers LLC saw a need for a website that would help make leasing decisions easier through shared information in an online community. The Rent Rite Directory’s Incident Reporting Database is tailor made for owners, property managers and landlords. It tracks crimes committed on a property, property damage, lease violations, evictions, skips, and proxy renters (those who rent on behalf of someone who does not want their name on a lease, such as drug dealers, sex offenders, or other criminals). The company also offers tenant-screening services to support the free portion of their website.
The Rent Rite Directory’s Incident Reporting Database helps keep you and other housing communities in your area aware of unwanted activities that occur on properties and also keeps its clients up to date through a police alert system. This system sends out alerts to communities in their county, and surrounding counties of suspicious activities, which can then be passed along to residents, to keep everyone well informed. In their effort to keep communities safe: the RRD works very closely with local police departments and the International Crime Free Association.
The International Crime Free Association’s Multi-Housing Division was created in 1992 in an effort to prevent crime on properties. Local police officers work together to educate property managers and owners on proper crime prevention techniques such as: how to properly screen applicants; building design changes that can discourage crime; and also offer manager and community awareness training. In most cases, police officers are more likely to recommend renting from a property that has completed and implemented the program, as they know it is more likely to be a safer alternative.
Consider the following topics when examining the safety and security of your community: Does your property have security cameras? If not, is the area outside well-lit? If the entrance is not gated, and there is not money in the budget to do so, how are the individual locks kept up-to-date? Do managers hold safety meetings to provide information on how students can protect themselves and their belongings? Using your community to help report suspicious activity can be greatly beneficial. Make sure your property is working with a Crime Free Program and that your managers communicate with campus security and police departments in their area.
Other safety tips to keep in mind:
- Watch out for gross inconsistencies in applications.
- Watch out for Friday afternoon applicants who say they must move in that very weekend.
- Create a Guest Visitation Policy.
- Create and implement a Drug Free Housing Addendum.
- Maintain the community’s common areas, and ensure controlled access to where bikes and other personal property is stored.
- Know your residents.
- Create House Rules, such as curfews, a loud-music policy, laundry room and pool operating hours.
Criminal background checks and credit checks should be implemented as part of your screening process, and if the student does not have satisfactory credit or income, make sure to check their co-signers’ background and credit as well. Additionally, confirm that the “student” is registered with the local university by asking for a copy of his or her student ID. The use of background checks will be a great selling point to the parents of your prospective tenants and can help to put their minds at ease.
Make sure that the agencies you receive information from comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It is illegal for Management Companies to pull reports if their offices have not been inspected to provide reports, based on their permissible purposes. And remember that any process put in place should be applied across the board, with every applicant, not just the ones who seem problematic, in order to comply with the Fair Housing Act.
After protecting the safety of students and your staff, other issues to consider that can be caused by on-property crimes are: decline in property values, the costs from a bad resident (repair, eviction) and the loss of valued residents. Communication, education and shared information are all key aspects of making your investment property as safe as possible. And remember, socially responsible companies are out there who want to help protect your communities, and your investments.