Maintaining Safety and Fighting Crime

Virtually all apartment communities are in some way affected by criminal activity. All the same, property management companies and property owners who are trying to meet their hefty expenses may refrain from beefing up on security related maintenance or spending money on criminal background checks. Even worse, property managers may also be so set on renting the apartment home that they approve applicants who fail criminal background screening tests. This shortsighted mindset may expose the property owner to massive civil liability for crimes committed on the property. In addition resident retention will take a nosedive, and the property value may plummet.

Residents must be Screened

Steven has just applied online to become a resident. He completely filled out the rental application. He lists his previous apartment community as a reference. He also represents on the application that he has never been convicted of a felony and that he has never been evicted. To complete the screening process, you verify that there was no felony conviction, and that the resident has never been evicted. Is this a weak, inadequate screening process? In a word, “yes”. First, no telephone call or other contact was made with the former apartment community. Perhaps that “reference” would have turned out to be anything but a “reference”. Maybe the contact person would have told you about prior conduct problems. Make sure your application contains language authorizing the prior property owner to divulge all information in the resident’s prior file to you. If Steven was served with a Seven-Day Termination Notice for assault and battery by the prior landlord, it is possible that you would have learned of this by taking a few minutes to simply make a phone call or send an email. We always advise our clients to use diligence in determining whether the prior landlord is real and not just a friend of the applicant, so that you are not duped or conned by the applicant. Suppose that the prior apartment community discovered crack cocaine inside Steven’s apartment and issued him a Seven-Day Termination Notice to vacate based upon a police report. If Steven did vacate the unit before an eviction was started, and no arrest was made, no eviction action or criminal conviction would have shown up on your screening report. In fact, even if an eviction lawsuit was commenced, if no final judgment of eviction was obtained, the resident’s prior eviction action may not show up on some background reports. We urge all property managers to access public records to see if there has been any prior eviction action started. Maybe your terrific prospect is under eviction right now. Another mistake made in the above example is not requiring Steven to inform you if there has ever been an “adjudication withheld”. While this might sound like complicated legalese, it is actually easy enough to understand. “Adjudication withheld” simply means that the criminal conduct likely took place and the court is not entering a conviction, usually due to a plea bargain arrangement. The judge sets forth conditions that must be met, and if those conditions are satisfied, the conviction is not entered. For example, If Steven was arrested for possession of cocaine, the judge may order him to attend a treatment program. As a property manager, you want to have the right to exclude from your community applicants who have had an “adjudication withheld” on their record. You also should check the website of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, “’FDLE”, to see if there is a criminal history. Property managers should be very diligent in researching whether any sexual offenders or predators are living on the premises.