Avoid unnecessary liability by following these best practices
It seems that resident safety and security is an on-going topic of discussion for all Associations, irrespective of where they are located, the community demographics, or community type – single family home or condominium communities. It does not seem to matter whether the community is gated, if there are cameras installed or even if the Association has hired full-time patrol. Mail theft, break-ins and vandalism are far too common and there seems to be a dangerous misunderstanding amongst community members that the Association is responsible for the safety and security of the residents, invited guests, and their personal property.
Associations are in no way, legally or otherwise, responsible for the safety and security of residents, guests or personal property, and this misconception, if not recognized and addressed by Associations, can create unnecessary liability. Below are some best practices, which when implemented may help clarify the Association’s role and responsibility when it comes to crime, and hopefully mitigate liability to the Association and its members.
▪ Notify Residents of Association’s Role & Responsibility Related to Criminal Acts
The first step is to educate residents. After all, how would members know that the Association is not responsible for the safety and security of its residents, guests and their personal property if no one ever notifies them? While an Association may implement measures to protect the Association’s common areas and amenities by installing cameras, gates and access systems, or hiring roaming patrol, these tools are meant to protect the Association’s common area assets, not individual residents or their personal property. Please note, personal property includes resident mail and packages. Association’s should consider an educational feature in the monthly newsletter or via separate mailer to educate residents regarding the role of the Association related to safety and security, reminding them that it is their responsibility to safeguard their belongings and to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. As an on-going reminder, an effective “best practice” is to include a standard footer at the bottom of the monthly community newsletter indicating that while the Association may have taken measures to increase community privacy and protect the common area assets and amenities via community cameras and access gates, they should not be relied upon to protect the safety and security of individual residents or their personal property.
▪ Strike the words “Safety” or “Security” from your Vocabulary and Association Publications
Establishing the Association’s role as it relates to safety, security and criminal acts begins with how the Association markets and advertises the Association’s role in the community. While it is true the Association may have installed cameras or hired patrol to protect and oversee the
common area assets, including community amenities, the Association should refrain from making reference, written or otherwise, to “security” cameras or “security” guard, instead adopting terms such as “privacy” cameras or common area “patrol”. The synonyms you select to replace the words “safety” and/or “security” are up to you so long as they do not communicate that the Association is assuming responsibility for the safety and security of the residents or their personal property. To that point, Association’s will also want to consider the names of committees and budget line items as it relates to this topic. Do you currently have a “safety” or “security” committee? How about a “security guard” line items in your budget? Take a moment to review the Association’s documents to remove any reference to safety or security.
▪ Adopt a Safety & Security Protocol Policy
Board’s should consider drafting and adopting a Safety & Security Policy that becomes part of the Association’s official Rules and Regulations, notifying the membership that the Association is not responsible for the safety and security of the residents, invited guests or personal property, and that each individual should act prudently to protect themselves and their belongings. The policy should include who to contact in case of a safety and security incident – the respective authorities. The policy should also indicate that while the Association encourages residents to report crimes to the Association’s Board of Directors and/or managing agent, such reports should not be in lieu of contacting the authorities or misinterpreted to mean that the Association will act to address such reports. Lastly, the policy should address how incidences are communicated to the residents. While the Association is not responsible for the safety and security of residents or personal property, the Association absolutely should share incidences with residents when notified so that they may take precautions as they deem necessary. Many of our Association’s at PMP send out e-mail blasts when learning of a safety and/or security incidence to make residents aware, but these messages should always include a clarification that the Association is not responsible for the safety and security of residents or their personal property.
Safety and security issues are serious, and it is understandable that victims of such crimes are anxious and upset. By educating residents in advance regarding the role and responsibility of the Association as it relates to criminal acts, and by adopting a Safety and Security Protocol Policy that can be shared with residents, if and when they are the victim of crime, they will have a clear understanding of the Association’s role. By implementing the “best practices” detailed above, the Association is also mitigating liability exposure to the Association and its members by setting a clear and documented expectation that Association assumes no responsibility for the safety and security of its residents, invited guests or their personal property.
Questions, feedback and suggestions for future topics can be submitted to DRHOA@PMPROLLC.COM.