Everyone deserves a place to call home where they can feel safe. Unfortunately, corporate greed forces many lower income Americans to live in fear of violence, believing security to be an out-of-reach extravagance of the rich. Meanwhile, middle and higher income families are often scammed with an illusion of safety — an illusion that’s soon shattered when promised security features aren’t delivered and violent crime spills into their safe-looking communities and buildings.
Regardless of the price range of an apartment or condo complex, entry and exit gates are almost always a good way of minimizing unnecessary traffic, deterring opportunistic thieves, and making criminal behaviors more difficult to execute quickly and covertly, thereby increasing overall safety for a community’s residents.
Landlords are responsible for keeping their tenants safe from known threats, so when criminal activity makes itself known around a property, installing a gate is a sensible precaution.
They also have a responsibility to be honest with tenants about any dangers, and to honor the terms of their leases, which sometimes include maintenance of gates and other security systems as part of a complex’s amenities.
The lawyers of The Stoddard Firm are passionate about enforcing and raising awareness of landlord responsibility. We specialize in assisting victims of violent crimes who’ve been subjected to unsafe living conditions, such as broken or missing security gates, by property owners who have been negligent in keeping proper security measures.
Gates Are Only Useful When Properly Maintained
When it comes to renting or buying a home, security is often a major consideration. Property management companies, realtors, and HOAs know this, and many are only too quick to sell prospective residents on the peacefulness of a community, or the safety offered by tall gates and fences. However, once residents move in, they’re often dismayed to discover that the neighborhood that looked so peaceful in the daylight has a dark side their complex isn’t equipped to handle, or that the solid-looking security gate they were shown is out of order more often than not.
This is part of what happened to one 23-year-old woman who had just moved into her first apartment in Dallas. Within days of her arrival in April of 2019, the complex’s security gate was left open pending repairs, allowing access to an assailant who raped and fatally strangled her in her new home. Her family’s ongoing lawsuit also alleges non-functioning security cameras and lights in the complex.
A crime of this sort should not have come as a surprise to building management, given that it was only the latest in a series. The 16-year-old suspect charged with the rape and murder lived only a fifteen minute walk away from victim’s apartment and is also charged with raping three other women in their Dallas homes, as well as two more women in Louisiana.
Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama have been reporting a similar bait-and-switch security problem at an apartment complex specifically marketed as off-campus housing. In August, one of their classmates was killed in his sleep by a stray bullet that pierced his bedroom wall. The shot appears to have been fired during a robbery in front of the building. The surviving residents say, among other health and safety concerns, that the gate is never closed, and the onsite security doesn’t do them any good, because the crimes occur after security leaves for the day.
Georgia Residents Have Good Reason to Worry about Safety
Home invasion is a serious problem throughout Georgia, with 53,930 instances of burglary being recorded in 2017 alone. That makes for a rate of 517.1 burglaries per 100,000 residents, about 20% higher than the national average. It’s important to note that the term “burglary” applies not only to break-ins that result in a theft, but also to trespassing with the intent to commit a felony, such as rape or murder. These numbers include burglaries on commercial property, but the majority of the problem is felt at home. According to the FBI, 67.2% of burglaries in 2017 occurred in residential buildings.
Security gates can provide an excellent first line of defense against burglary, but just like that unfortunate woman in Dallas and those students in Alabama, vulnerable Georgia residents often find themselves paying rent for apartments and condos advertised as “gated,” only to be left unprotected and ultimately victimized.
In October of 2018, a four- and five-year-old pair of sisters were molested in their Atlanta apartment by a man who apparently climbed through their bedroom window while they were asleep. According to neighbors of the family, the complex’s gate had been left out of order for months, allowing uncontrolled access to the grounds.
A month later, a woman living in another complex with a broken gate in Brookhaven was accosted by an armed man outside her apartment. When she tried to fight back, he shot her in the leg and stole her purse. She survived and is now suing the complex, where other residents have said the gate breaking or being left open is a regular occurrence.
Assessing the Safety of a New Apartment Is about More than First Impressions
If you’re trying to determine whether a potential new apartment or condo complex is safe, it’s important not to be taken in by sales language and empty promises. Before signing a lease, it’s a good idea to:
Visit the complex at multiple times of day, checking whether the gate is engaged
Examine the property from all sides, noting less obvious means of access
Talk to your prospective neighbors about how safe they feel at home
Ask what, if any, security services will be promised in your lease
Check the crime maps provided on local police department websites
Remember though, however much or little homework you may have done before moving into a new building, it doesn’t change anything about your landlord’s legal duty to protect you.
Security Gates Are One of the Most Efficient Ways of Improving Security
The exact statistical effect of security gates is not known, however, there have been studies on site-specific crime reduction, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, which point to gates as a key method of improving safety. Based on the results of these small-scale experiments, entry gates and other site-appropriate physical security upgrades seem to have a universally positive effect on resident safety and quality of life, sometimes a dramatic one. In one of the observed cases, after gates and fencing were added to a severely deteriorated property, police reported receiving fewer calls for help in the area, to the point where they were able to reduce patrols without a resurgence in crime
While the mere presence of a security gate is often not enough to guarantee resident safety, regular gate maintenance is a cornerstone of a strong overall security strategy. Working gates are an absolute must in high-crime areas, along with cameras, good lighting, and security personnel. In areas with only moderate crime, where security guard service may be overkill, a gate is a simple, low-cost alternative method of making a property uninviting to criminals.
Landlords who spend their security budget unwisely may be putting their tenants at just as great a risk as those who refuse to invest in security at all. Case in point, when a gun safety advocate was murdered in his Savannah apartment complex in 2018, the security guard on duty admitted to hearing the shots and doing nothing, because he heard shots all the time. The complex had no entry gate to protect residents, even though installing and maintaining one would have cost far less than the wasted pay of this security guard, who apparently considered the ungated property too out-of-control to be guarded.
A single landlord’s indifference to security can endanger not only a property’s residents but its neighbors as well. While people often attribute repeating patterns of crime to a “dangerous area” that no one can control, studies show that dangerous areas are more often made up of dangerous individual properties, where management is either indifferent to crime or actively profiting off of it. Rehabilitating a single property through the use of gates, cameras, lights, and a general willingness to respond to crime can often keep people safer in the surrounding area, as well as on the property itself. Sadly, the reverse is also true. One or more crime havens in a community can put everyone at risk.
One would-be daycare manager in Indianapolis is currently struggling with this frustrating phenomenon. In preparation for the grand opening of an affordable daycare center that she hopes will bring stability and community pride to a neighborhood lacking in reliable childcare, she has done the responsible thing and invested in creating a secure space, complete with gate, fencing, and security cameras. Unfortunately, criminal activity from a next door apartment complex has been making it difficult for her to make her dream a reality, she says.
Since the fence’s installation, which she says cost her $1,700, the gate intended to separate her property from the complex’s dark alleyway has been broken down, drug paraphernalia has been left scattered on the ground, and her security cameras have caught people crossing the broken gate to steal things, including other sections of fence. When contacted by the press, the apartment complex’s management company said they are in the process of taking bids to fix the fence, but the aspiring daycare manager says they have not responded to her about taking responsibility; she was assuming she would have to shoulder the expense herself before she could open for business.
Daunting as it may be, this small business owner does have the same responsibility to make her property safe that a corporate landlord would, regardless of her neighbor’s actions. However, the policies of the apartment complex management company, which seem to have allowed crime to proliferate out of control, are worthy of serious scrutiny. The property does not seem to be equipped with adequate lighting or recording equipment in potentially crime-friendly areas of its layout, and it’s unlikely that the tenants have received background checks. If anyone within the apartment complex itself falls victim to a violent crime, management might well be liable.
The Stoddard Firm Holds Landlords Responsible for Leaving Tenants Unprotected
A safe home isn’t just a moral right. Landlords are legally required to take reasonable steps to protect their tenants from all foreseeable dangers, including violent crime. Adequate security can be a vague concept, and it varies depending local crime levels, but for any property with a history of violent crime on or near the premises, installing and maintaining a security gate is a thoroughly reasonable measure for a landlord to take.
When a crime occurs, many negligent landlords will try to deflect attention away from themselves by blaming the victim, or by exploiting people’s fear of the criminal, claiming they were helpless against the actions of an outsider.
The Stoddard Firm has experts who can cut through this kind of misdirection and faulty logic. We’ve participated in many successful wrongful death and personal injury suits against negligent property owners, including the case of Creekside Forest Apartment Homes, in which an absentee owner had left tenants exposed behind a broken gate and corrupt security force, leading to the death of a 15-year-old boy.
If you’ve been injured or lost a family member to violent crime in your apartment or condo complex, The Stoddard Firm can help. We can explain in court the duty a landlord has to provide adequate security — no matter the income level of a property’s tenants — gather and present evidence of how the landlord should have known about the danger, and clarify exactly what should have been done to prevent the crime.
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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...