Lax Security Results in Tragedy, Hits Bottom Line for Apartment Owners

A $10 million verdict was not what the owners of an apartment complex in Clayton County, Georgia expected to hear in connection with a 2015 shooting death of one of its residents. But that’s exactly the amount the jury rendered after it was convinced by the victim’s lawyer that the owners of the complex were lax when it came to security. The shooting during an apparent robbery took the life of a father of three who was returning home from going to the store. The award some speculate was that large because of a previous shooting that took place in 2013 at the same complex that killed a 13-year-old boy.

The complex is situated in an area known for crime. In fact, between 2010 and 2015 there were 51 robberies and seven aggravated assaults with weapons in the area, the majority of which took place at the complex across the street – also owned by the same company where both deaths occurred. In light of the high crime area, the victim’s lawyer claimed that the property owner did not step up security measures and only had an unarmed courtesy officer making the rounds twice daily. The owner’s attorney, of course, said the award was way too high, and “should have been a $2 million case.” He said there were “only two crimes following the death of the 13-year-old boy” at the complex where the father was killed.  He is a filing a motion for a new trial for the judge to reconsider the verdict.

This case, while putting the spotlight on a horrible crime and potential liability consequences facing property owners, is not isolated when it comes to criminal activity that takes place at apartment complexes – no matter the location. An article in the LA Times highlighted the high incidence of criminal activity occurring in the downtown area at luxury apartments that attract college students who can afford to pay higher rent. One building was the target of 73 serious crimes, including 31 burglaries and 22 thefts from cars. However, a nearby residential building paints a different picture – only three serious crimes were reported for the same year. Police attribute this lower rate of criminal activity to a better overall security approach by the property owner and a good working relationship with the cops.

The importance of strong security for property owners can’t be emphasized enough. It is not only critical to have the proper measures in place but to also work with local police department to help deter criminal activity in the area. Here are some helpful recommendations when looking at security measures at an apartment complex:

  • Review Security Systems: Security devices can include cameras, lighting, locks on common area entrances, and other equipment. Be sure that your cameras are in proper working order and that they cover common areas. All gates should be locked and all light bulbs should be bright. Work with a security company to ramp up measures, particularly if the property is vulnerable to criminal activity.
  •  Educate the Residents: Help residents by posting security tips around the complex. Encourage that they report suspicious activity. Establish a comprehensive crime prevention program that includes a community watch program.
  • Identify Staff: Make sure that the staff uses IDs. Burglaries often happen because the residents believe thieves to be staff, so have staff carry their IDs at all times and wear the same uniforms. Let tenants know it’s okay to ask to see proof of identification before they let a staff member enter their premises.

Negligent-security lawsuits are obviously costly for apartment owners – not only in the potential damages that can be rendered but also in attracting and retaining tenants. Implementing strong security measures and remaining active in keeping those measures in sync with what is going in the community is the responsibility of an owner to keep its residents safe.