Many potential home buyers are attracted to communities with active security programs; protecting the value of both individual homes and common amenities is a shared goal for members of a condo or homeowners association (HOA). Many associations engage security guards or doormen, surveillance cameras, alarms and auto-locked entrances to restrict access to the community and deter crime.
On the surface, extra security measures seem beneficial, but engaging private security personnel or simply installing security equipment may create as many problems as it prevents. As a member of the HOA board, it’s important to stop potential security exposures from evolving into dangerous or costly situations.
The HOA board and homeowners should discuss what forms of security would best meet the needs of the association. In your discussion, consider the following questions:
How many hours is security needed?
First, determine why the association needs security. Is the HOA located in an urban or suburban setting? Are there recurring crime problems, such as burglaries during nighttime hours? Are nonmembers trespassing in the pool on the weekend? Depending on the characteristics of the HOA and its needs, some associations may demand 24-hour security, while others may only require security for nights or weekends.
What type of security is needed?
After determining the time periods needed, decide how much of the HOA’s budget can be allocated for security. This affects the type(s) of security—security equipment and/or security personnel—that the HOA can afford to best meet its needs.
Surveillance Cameras, Alarms, Locks and Lighting
Installing security equipment on HOA property can help monitor low-level crimes, such as trespassing, vandalism, property damage and rules violations. Cameras, alarms, locked entrances and increased lighting may deter some criminals, but HOAs should not rely on security equipment to prevent all crime.
It’s important that the HOA installs cameras in places that do not violate the privacy of homeowners to avoid invasion of privacy claims. Also, cameras, alarms, lighting and other security equipment can break or be disabled and should be routinely inspected. Part of the HOA’s security budget should include costs of repairing or replacing equipment.
Some HOAs choose to hire security guards in addition to, or in place of, security equipment. Larger HOAs may need several guards to monitor common areas and do roving patrols around the community; others may simply need one security guard stationed at a front gate or desk to monitor who enters and leaves the premises.
Security guards are not law enforcement; their duty is to monitor activity on the property and report it to local police departments and the HOA board. Guards that are not properly trained and who go beyond the scope of their duties drastically increase the HOA’s risk for claims. The HOA board should consider all possible outcomes, and associated risks, before electing to engage private security guards as part of the staff.
Should the homeowners association hire security directly or through a professional security firm?
HOAs can choose to hire a security guard directly or through a professional security firm, although sometimes the least expensive option may also expose the association to the most exposures.
An HOA could save money for a security guard’s salary by hiring directly instead using a firm; but hiring directly comes with hidden costs usually absorbed by the firm. This includes background checks, drug testing and training, and most importantly, insurance. Your HOA insurance policy must cover your new employee, including Workers’ Compensation, Employment Practices Liability and General Liability for damages they incur, such as damage to property or others.
Hiring security personnel through a security firm has several benefits:
- Insurance: Security firms usually insure all of their security guards, and should indemnify the HOA against all damages incurred as a result of their security guard. The HOA should ensure indemnification provisions are in the contract.
- Licensed professionals: HOAs should require that their board hires only licensed professionals. Security firms usually complete extensive background checks and drug testing on the security personnel they hire.
- Training: Most security firms train their personnel on basic elements of the security guard position. If an HOA needs armed security guards, the firm should also train guards on how to use firearms. Ask a security firm if they also provide refresher courses to keep guards up to date on training.
To find a reputable security firm, ask other HOAs in your city or county for recommendations. The HOA board should do this preliminary research, which shows its diligence and may help your case in the event of a lawsuit. Obtain bids or proposals—including references, proof of insurance and a list of other buildings the company protects—from at least three professional security firms.
While using a security firm may save on expenses associated with background checks, drug testing and training, make sure an extensive evaluation is part of your due-diligence process, including. Keep the following points in mind when evaluating security firms:
- Lack of insurance: Does the security firm have Workers’ Compensation insurance and Employment Practices Liability insurance to cover the guards at your HOA? This is important, as the HOA doesn’t want to be liable for medical benefits for injured guards or for claims from disgruntled employees who sue both the firm and the HOA.
- Many additional insureds: Check how many additional insureds the security firm has listed on its policy. This is the number of clients that rely on the firm’s policy limit, which affects the insurer’s ability to defend and indemnify your HOA in the event of a lawsuit.
Should the homeowners association hire armed or unarmed guards?
Allowing guards to carry weapons increases the liability of the homeowners association, so it’s important to determine if the weapon is a deterrent or an undue risk. If the security guard negligently uses the weapon and causes bodily injury, your HOA could face a costly lawsuit. Even if the weapon isn’t discharged, it could still result in a claim.
If the HOA determines the risks of arming guards outweigh the benefits, it should adopt a policy that bans security guards from carrying weapons.
Other Ways to Mitigate Security Risks
The HOA should consistently communicate security concerns with homeowners and inform them of incidents that occur on and around the association’s property. Homeowners should be reminded to always report suspicious activities to both HOA security personnel and local law enforcement.
Information abstracted from Zywave’s “PM RI – Security Options for your HOA” article.