It’s a fact: Some neighborhoods are more safe than others. It’s also true that while a neighborhood may be quite safe at the time you purchase an investment property, things can go downhill at any time (happily, this phenomenon can work in the opposite direction as well). To make things even trickier, high crime rates aren’t necessarily limited to “bad” areas. Sometimes crime can trickle into nicer areas from surrounding neighborhoods, which is why it’s important to really do your homework before investing in a property—some hazards are simply not immediately obvious.
If, for any of these reasons (or completely different ones), you find yourself with a property in an area that is suffering from regular criminal activity, there are steps you can take to help make your property a safer place for tenants to reside.
Form a Neighborhood Watch Program
This is one of our favorite options, because it goes beyond just protecting your property and tackles the larger issue—making your entire neighborhood a safer, more enticing place to live. The results of accomplishing this are huge for you and include increasing property value and potentially lowering vacancy rates.
If your neighborhood does not already have a Neighborhood Watch Program, it does take some effort to start up but, again, the payoff is big. Begin by advertising the group to neighbors through fliers and notices in local publications (such as alternative weekly newspapers and online publications), and through social networking services. Once you have interest, set up a meeting and devise a plan, which includes safety patrols in the area during nighttime hours. It’s also worth having neighbors post signs on their properties advertising the fact that a neighborhood watch exists as this, in and of itself, can be a deterrent to crime. Contact your local sheriff and have them send a representative to the meeting to help provide tips and guidelines for creating a plan of action and the most safe, effective program possible.
The National Sherriffs’ Association has a number of great tips and tools for starting up and registering an official program in your area. You can also search USAonWatch.org to find out about any existing programs in your area.
Communicate with Your Tenants
There is a tendency to avoid advertising criminal activity in your surrounding area so as not to harm the reputation of your property or alarm existing tenants. However, if you are aware of crime in your neighborhood, it’s actually very important to inform tenants and to provide them with tips for safeguarding themselves and their property.
Much like a neighborhood watch program, having actively involved and alert residents can go a long way toward preventing crime. Just make sure that your communication is not alarmist—information should be provided in a straight-forward, factual manner and tips for protecting and safeguarding property should also be included in the same memo. (Also be sure to include contact information for local police and Neighborhood Watch Programs so that suspicious activity can be reported.)
Safeguard Your Property
Criminals often look for signs of neglect according to James Wilson and George Welling’s “broken window” theory. The gist of this theory is that if would-be criminals see signs of neglect, they are more likely to commit acts of vandalism or crime. Keep your property in good order and make it clear at just a glance that it is a carefully protected area. Install outside lighting (including motion detector lights), put up alarm system signs in conspicuous areas, and secure all doors and windows. Be sure to check out our previous blog post for more tips on safeguarding your property against crime.
There’s no quick fix for ridding an area of crime. But a concerted and consistent effort can definitely make a significant impact over time. Do what you can to make your property as safe as possible and recruit community members and tenants to do their part in keeping their eyes open, making your neighborhood a safer place for everyone.