Your home is supposed to be the place you feel safest, whether you live in a detached house or a multifamily residence. That feeling of security is a basic need, a crucial building block of your wellbeing, but the frequency of burglaries and violent crime on residential property make that feeling elusive for many.
Contrary to popular belief, the term “burglary” is not limited to theft, but actually covers all break-ins where the intruder intends to commit any felony or theft inside. A person who illegally enters a building for the purpose of committing a sexual assault, for example, is guilty of burglary as well as sexual assault, even if no possessions are stolen. This is true even if the gate or door is unlocked and no actual breaking is necessary for entry. According to the FBI, 71.9% of burglaries occur in residential buildings.
This makes burglary rates a pretty good gauge of an area’s general state of home security. In Georgia, the statewide burglary rate was 596.1 per 100,000 residents in 2016. That’s 38% higher than the national average, as reported by the FBI.
If you own a house, you get to make many of your own choices about how to safeguard your home and family against becoming yet another data point in these frightening statistics. There will still be variables outside your control, such as HOA regulations or police response time in your area, but you can install whatever locks, alarm systems, security cameras, or window reinforcements you consider necessary. If you’re renting, on the other hand, you may find yourself at the mercy of an indifferent landlord who looks upon the property as a personal money machine rather than a home to its tenants. In these kinds of situations, inadequate security is sadly the norm rather than the exception.
Georgia Is Home to the Unofficial “Worst Neighborhood in America”
Negligent security conditions in Atlanta apartment complexes can involve problems as simple as broken lights or locks that management doesn’t replace in a timely manner, but some landlords allow properties to deteriorate far beyond a few quick fixes.
Brannon Hill in DeKalb County is such a property, dubbed “Worst Neighborhood in America” in one documentary. According to a 2016 investigation by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, more than a hundred residents of the complex were living in conditions that included piles of trash, partially burnt down units, and missing doors. Some were squatters, but many paid rent to absentee landlords who took no interest in the property beyond collecting the money and were conveniently difficult to find when it came to citations and fines. That rent was described in an earlier investigation as only “relatively” cheap. Meanwhile, murders and other violent crimes on the property were so notoriously common as to be almost beyond counting.
The county itself eventually sued to be allowed to clean up the complex, and went so far as to demolish most of the uninhabited units in 2017. The management of the units undamaged by fire has not changed, however, and yet another fatal stabbing occurred in the complex in November of 2018.
Brannon Hill may be an extreme scenario, but it’s emblematic of the kind of negligent security conditions and outright neglect that renters face in complexes throughout Georgia. In August of 2018, also in DeKalb County, two children were shot in their apartments on the same night within two miles of each other, in two completely unrelated incidents.
In 2017, two residents got into a shootout between their two apartments at the Decatur Garden Complex, involving two high powered rifles, a shotgun, and multiple handguns. One was killed, and the other shot in the foot. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, no one was caught in the crossfire that time, but one 14-year-old girl in Atlanta wasn’t so fortunate. The week of Thanksgiving in 2018, she was struck in the head and killed by a bullet fired from the apartment above her. She was eight months pregnant.
Sometimes danger comes from other residents, when landlords don’t notice or pay enough attention to the warning signs. Other times, the threat comes from the outside, as in the case of the DeKalb County woman who was raped at gunpoint in the supposedly secure parking garage of her apartment complex. The intruder had apparently slid under the security gate.
Similarly, one Norcross man was attacked in his apartment and robbed by two masked men. The robbers simply knocked on the door, and the victim opened it, expecting the taxi service he had called for. Reports do not mention whether the victim’s door was properly equipped with a peephole designed to prevent such intrusions.
Perhaps most disturbingly, threats to tenant safety can even come from those who are supposed to protect them. In 2012, another 14-year-old girl was raped by a security guard at her Clayton County apartment complex. Her attacker had a known history of inappropriate behavior toward tenants and guests and had not been removed from his position of authority in the complex. In addition to his conviction, the survivor was awarded a $1 billion dollar settlement against the negligent security company.
Safe, Affordable Housing Is Not Too Much to Ask For
High crime rates in low-cost apartment complexes are so commonplace that many people have come to consider them inseparable. There’s a bias that remotely affordable rent is itself a draw for crime, and that potentially becoming a victim of crime is an inherent risk that tenants accept when moving into an affordable apartment. People living both in and out of high crime complexes assume that the only way anyone can escape those risks is by making enough money to live somewhere else.
Landlords encourage this victim-blaming assumption, because it excuses them from the responsibility of providing the safe living conditions that all tenants should be able to expect, regardless of their monthly bill. In an all-too-common story, a student living in Fulton County found himself on the receiving end of two attempted burglaries in one week. Management at his apartment complex, what was then lauded as “the only affordable apartment complex in Buckhead,” not only refused to address the inadequate security, but evicted the man for attempting to alert his neighbors to the threat, claiming that marring the complex’s reputation was a violation of his lease.
Less than a year later, the complex was sold and all tenants evicted, to make way for renovations that will probably make the building safer, but definitely rid it of its “affordable” title, reinforcing again the idea that only the rich can be or deserve to be protected.
In response to the classist (and frequently racist) claim that low-income renters are the source of crime rather than its victims, criminologist John Eck notes that extremely high crime rates often cluster around a single property. The determining factor in which properties will have these sky-high crime rates is not the neighborhood, or the rent, but the management. “There are some property owners who for one reason or another seem to have business models that generate crime or allow crime to happen,” he was quoted as saying in an AJC article about the inadequate security at Brookfield Apartments in Fulton County.
After three court orders to institute basic security measures, the owner of Brookfield Apartments was eventually jailed for failing to comply, but this kind of bitter struggle to wring the smallest of fixes out of crime-harboring landlords is far from uncommon.
Keep Yourself, Your Family, and Your Belongings Safe
Many home invasions are motivated by theft, but can easily escalate to violence. To protect your personal safety, it’s best to avoid confronting thieves, and ideally to appear unappealing to them in the first place. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office offers a lengthy set of recommendations on how to protect your home from burglars. Many of these suggestions are only practical for homeowners, but it’s a good idea to apply what methods you can to your apartment, including:
Keeping blinds closed and valuables out of sight from the outside
Locking all doors and windows before going out or going to bed
Never advertising when you will be away from home, such as by posting plans on social media, leaving messages on your door, or allowing mail to pile up
Retreating and calling 911 if you ever come home to find your door or window broken
Other security measures fall upon your landlord to install and maintain, and you can get in trouble for making unauthorized changes on your own, especially in common areas. If you’re concerned about inadequate security in your complex in general, what you can do is make sure your landlord knows about the issues, and knows that you can prove he or she knew about them if an incident does occur.
Much as they might like you to believe otherwise, landlords are responsible for protecting tenants from foreseeable dangers. Documenting that a problem exists before a criminal can take advantage of it can make all the difference in forcing a landlord to care about negligent security.
If your landlord is slow or unresponsive about fixing locks, lights, or gates, be sure to make your request in writing, and take pictures of the inadequate security conditions for your records. Also report in writing any illegal or threatening behavior by your neighbors, so your landlord cannot deny being aware of any potential dangers. If one of your neighbors has already been victimized on the property, take note of how the perpetrator gained access. Your landlord can be held liable for failing to prevent the same kind of breach from happening again. It can also be helpful to pool your efforts with other residents who share your concerns. Landlords are more likely to listen and less likely to illegally retaliate against a specific tenant if the complaints are coming from a group.
Even if the threat of violence is coming from within your own home, your landlord has certain responsibilities to protect you. Georgia law allows victims of domestic violence to break leases, without penalties, in order to escape that violence. Your landlord cannot use your lease to force you to stay in an abusive situation, and any landlord who tries is liable for willfully putting your safety at risk.
What to Do After a Crime Has Occurred
If you or a loved one have already become the victim of a crime because of inadequate or negligent security at your apartment complex, first take care of your physical safety and health. Whether you called 911 during the incident or not, seek medical attention for any injuries and file a police report as soon as you can. Once you feel safe doing so, also document as much as you can of what happened, including what damage was done, what (if anything) was stolen, and what conditions allowed the crime to occur.
Your next step should be getting in touch with a qualified legal expert, like those at The Stoddard Firm. You can reach us at 678-RESULT or through our online chat function for a free consultation on your next steps.
Tell us about your concern and request a free, no obligation, confidential legal consultation.
Many people consider it a fact of life that only the rich can afford safety. Those who don’t own their own homes or pay luxury rates for their rentals end up living in areas with higher rates of violent crime, often in buildings lacking basic security measures. When a resident falls victim to a crime, there’s often an attitude of “you get what you pay for,” and an assumption that the landlord c...