In 2012, Frank Yeager—a 29-year-old resident of Bucks County, Pennsylvania—approached a sales agent from Pulte Homes and asked her to show him one of their model homes. Something didn’t seem right, though. Yeager’s overall demeanor, as well as the fact that he didn’t ask about home prices, raised her suspicions. So she told him to go ahead and look at the home himself.
He came back 45 minutes later, though, and told the agent that the home had a water leak, and tried to get her to come look at it with him. Once again, her intuition told her that something was wrong, and she asked a male colleague to accompany them to the unit. Yeager left quickly, but the two staffers noticed that Yeager had turned off the lights in the bedroom and closed the drapes so that no one could see inside.
They reported the incident to the police, and discovered that the same man had also visited a number of other realtors in the area.
During the course of their investigation, the police discovered that Yeager had collected the names and personal information of over 200 realtors and stalked them via social media. Yeager had spent over 5 months on his plan to attack this particular saleswoman—tracking down where she lived, the places she frequented, her work hours, and her general routine.
Police also found that he had two pistols and ammunition in his truck, along with chains, padlocks, rope, knives, duct tape, gloves, and a ski mask—in case he needed to fix a water leak, of course.
Assault on Realtors: A Terrifying Trend
According to a 2015 National Association of Realtors study, 40% of real estate agents reported situations that made them fear for their personal safety. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics report an average of 77 work-related deaths among rental, leasing, and real estate agents each year between 2011 and 2014, a third of which were homicides.
Property managers and leasing staff are exposed to many of the same risks reported by realtors. While they tend to work within the same residences over and over, they must still show units to total strangers; spend much of their time alone in leasing offices and units; and deliver eviction notices to people who could be volatile.
Putting Property Manager Safety First
The fact that every single interaction introduces the possibility of personal threat makes safety—particularly in extreme situations—a topic that must be discussed on a regular basis. Leaders of property management firms have a responsibility to ensure the safety of themselves and their staff and residents to the maximum extent possible.
Here are 20 property manager safety tips that you and your staff should memorize before going out in the field on your own:
Property Management Safety Tips for Staff
- Take advantage of the resources put together by the National Association of Realtors. For example, send staffers through the Real Estate Safety Course, a three-hour block of instruction which some local associations have approved for continuing education credits.
- Staffers should always alert a coworker when they are showing a unit or entering a vulnerable area. Arrange a time by which another staffer should check on them if they haven’t returned.
- Install visible cameras in any spaces where staff members are regularly on their own, such as in leasing offices and model units.
- Have a panic button installed at the front desk in case you need to notify police quickly.
- Consider having a secret code that office staff can employ if they require urgent assistance.
Operational Safety Tips for Property Managers
- Staffers should not enter apartments with prospective tenants. Train them to open the door, let the applicant in, and stay by the door.
- If the staffer must enter the unit, train them to let the applicant enter each room first. In no event should the applicant come between the staffer and a quick escape.
- Staffers should walk behind the applicant, never in front.
- Train staff to extend the deadbolt on the open front door if they enter a unit with a potential renter. This will keep the door from closing behind them, slowing them down if they have to flee in a hurry.
- If you have security, have them shadow your staffer while they are showing a unit. If security isn’t available, have a maintenance worker or other trustworthy employee nearby.
- Always review an applicant’s ID before showing them a unit. Scan or photograph it and be sure to log it digitally in some way. Make sure the applicant sees you do it.
- Take your own photo or video of the applicant. IDs can be faked; plus, taking your own video or photograph could be a powerful deterrent to any potential criminals.
- Get vehicle and tag information from open house visitors.
Discouraging Theft from Agents & Property Managers
- Don’t accept cash in the leasing office. Having cash on hand attracts robbers.
- Don’t advertise rent drop-off locations—only residents and staff need to know where they are.
Property Manager Safety: Personal Protection
- Discourage staffers from wearing scarves or other articles of clothing that an assailant could easily grab hold of.
- Train staffers to keep a fully charged cell phone with them at all times and monitor their cell service. Enable tracking.
- Keep drapes open in units that you’re showing at all times. If a unit is being shown to prospective tenants and the drapes or blinds are closed, onlookers should know that something is wrong.
- Be alert to unusual body language or signs of agitation on the part of a prospective tenant—and don’t hesitate to take precautions if your suspicions are aroused by someone’s behavior. Paying attention to her own intuition saved the Pennsylvania sales agent’s life.
- Consider issuing emergency alert devices to your staff. Cell phones are nice for follow-up reports, but if one of your staffers is attacked, they may not have time to pull out their phone and dial 911. A fob-type device or cell-enabled wearable like those made by Artemis and Safelet can alert law enforcement with a single push of a button.