Gated community associations are perceived as being safer communities, which attracts homeowners who are willing to pay a premium to feel safer in their homes. However, sometimes the expectation of having a high degree of security can backfire when a crime occurs within the gates.
We have seen an uptick in negligent security cases. Criminals will be criminals, and they find ways to exploit gaps in security measures. Homeowners who have taken their security for granted because of the gate and walls may be lax in taking personal precautions to protect themselves– leaving doors unlocked, not turning on security alarms, not being as vigilant when outside at night. Such oversight may result in the homeowner becoming a victim of a crime. Looking for deep pockets, the homeowner victims in some cases have sued their association for not having provided the security the homeowner claims they expect and have been guaranteed.
Between litigation costs and damage awards, this situation could be quite expensive for the association to defend. So, what can the association do to help protect its homeowners and at the same time reduce its potential liability? We recommend reducing the homeowners’ expectation of security by taking some simple steps:
- Ask legal counsel to include a security disclaimer in the association’s governing document
- Be careful to avoid using terms such as “safety” and “security” when referring to access personnel
- Send out regular notices (such as letters, newsletters, e-mail blasts) to homeowners reminding them:
- The gate is not intended for security purposes
- That it is the homeowner’s responsibility, and their guests’ responsibility, to utilize their own security measures – locking doors, setting security alarms, installing adequate lighting and motion sensors, etc.
- Keep dated copies and/or a log of the reminder notices sent out by the association
- Make a security disclaimer announcement at regular board meetings and include the announcement in the meeting minutes
- Don’t post a disclaimer sign on the gate or otherwise in public view
While gated communities do provide some added piece of mind, it’s important to remind homeowners that every security measure makes a difference when it comes to deterring criminals and protecting themselves and their property. An association that has followed these recommendations will help its homeowners to be better armed against crimes within the gates and will be in a better position to defend itself against negligent security claims should a crime occur.
Photo courtesy of Dean Terry under Flickr Creative Commons license