Your Security Web Maintaining Safety and Security at Home

Your Security Web

 The days when an apartment building's 'security system' consisted of a tricky  front door lock and the landlord's ill-tempered dog are long past. Today,  security measures range from old-style deadbolts to high-tech biometric  screening equipment, with a lot of technology in between that includes both  electronic and human components. For association board members and others  living in co-op or condo buildings, understanding the functions and necessities  of these security components is essential to having a safe community. Any  resident should know how these various measures interlock to form a web of  protection for them and their property.  

 But how should a residential co-op or condo building pinpoint its ideal level of  security? Such an inquiry starts with determining the criteria the building’s management should take into account when considering a security installation  or upgrade. Particularly in these sometimes stressful economic times, cost  often is the most important factor for a board to consider when determining its  community’s security needs.  

 Sometimes, the absolute necessity of a building’s leadership to provide for the safety of the residents must supersede cost.  Because failing to provide adequate security for a building could be the basis  of a lawsuit if a major crime is committed or a person is harmed, adequate  security is about dollars and cents as much as it is about life and limb.  Lawsuits against a building alleging inadequate security could be  time-consuming, and also expensive to all of the community’s residents.  

 Due to such potentially costly threats, it is crucial for a board to conduct a  thorough evaluation of the building’s security needs at least every few years, residential security experts say. For  many residential structures, this evaluation begins at a building’s annual meeting.  

 Costly Inaction

 The legal fallout for a building whose management fails to provide a minimum  level of security can be quite serious. In addition to being subjected to  expensive and time-consuming lawsuits, a building’s management might feel the need to immediately upgrade aspects of the building’s security system as a preventative measure. Doing renovations in such an  on-the-fly manner can be the costliest way to upgrade, since competitive  bidding often falls by the wayside during these crisis moments. Ideally, a  building’s management will have assessed the security needs of the community before any  serious crimes happen, and will be prepared.  

 Providing a safe atmosphere for residents is an obligation of the building’s management, many court cases have established. But the idea of “adequate” security for a building is something of a moving target—depending upon the neighborhood, or even on the block in which the building is  located, or the day, month, or time of year, what could be deemed as adequate  security at one moment might be seen as lacking later. In some buildings, a  courtyard or lobby area could quickly become a camping spot for vagrants, or as  an impromptu shop for brazen street-level drug dealers, for example.  

 In considering a building’s security system and needs, management should assess the history of the  neighborhood, by checking police records and by polling residents regarding  problems in the public areas of the building, and finding the places where  security should be tightened up, says Jordan Lubitz, owner of Bronx-based  Jordan Intercom & Mailbox Service Co. Inc. “It’s important to remind people that it’s not impolite to not hold the door open for someone you don’t know—they could have no business there. I think people tend to be too polite,” Lubitz says.  

 A building’s issues regarding access and control of parts of the security system could be  as particular as the group of people living in the place. Some communities are  filled with residents who don’t want to know much about the security system, as long as it works. In other  communities in which there are many retirees, streaming video footage of images  from the security cameras can be accessed by residents of individual units, via  their television sets. The management of some buildings finds it necessary to  have a security guard, while others do not, or feel the residents can’t support the extra cost of more paid employees.  

 All residential buildings have some types of security. Often, a building has a  few security layers that amount to a thick blanket of mechanical, electronic  and people-based measures to keep out the bad guys and keep the peace on the  street around the building. Sometimes, a building’s management deems it necessary to have security guards in force to ward off  unfriendly non-residents. But security guards can be considered too costly for  some smaller buildings, though, because cost always is one of the first factors  a building’s management team considers when evaluating its security needs.  

 Even with cost as a crucial element of a building’s security plan, the safety of the residents of the building must be of the  utmost importance to management. That is why even some smaller buildings  sometimes need to pay for security measures that some residents in the building  might find to be excessive.  

 Manning the Gates

 As with the potential sale price of a co-op or condo, location is a key factor in  determining the level of security needed for the community. The neighborhood in  which the structure is situated, or even the street along which it sits, could  have an effect on the level of security needed, says Mark Lerner, PhD.,  president of Manhattan’s EPIC Security Corp., which provides uniformed security guards for communities.  

 All buildings have some system of door locks, and many still use the old  lock-and-key system.  

 Many buildings have a closed circuit television system, with a modern DVR  recording system attached to it. The device allows management and staff to  monitor lobbies and other more public areas of the building, to ensure that no  one is gaining access to the building’s property when they should not. More often than not, though, the device is used  merely to record what’s happening in those areas, and the recording can be accessed later if a crime  has been committed.  

 Many of the newer CCTV systems have wireless cameras that can be moved around,  depending upon the need for tighter security in another part of the building.  For example, a building resident might go away for several months and leave the  apartment to the use of his children, who have loud parties or may be involved  in illicit activity. After receiving complaints about such a scenario, the  building’s management could hide a camera in the hallway outside the unit, to monitor the  comings and goings of those who visit and live in the apartment.  

 This sort of snooping might seem not quite neighborly but it is not illegal.  Since the hall is a public area that must be secured for all of the residents,  management can easily justify taping activity there. Despite such measures,  many criminals actually ignore the cameras and commit crimes in front of them,  experts say.  

 “Be advised that CCTV is good for solving crimes but it is not good as a  deterrent,” Lerner says. “For a deterrent, you need personnel. The more uniformed personnel you have, the  greater the deterrent will be.”  

 When thinking about a building’s security system and possible upgrades to it, management must define what their  goals are for security. Is the goal to secure your tenants? Is it to keep out  unwanted strangers and prevent forced entries? These goals are a good place to  start, and fall in line with requirements of New York’s Local Law 76, which mandates that exit doors must be clearly marked and easy  to use—and not having things such as a slide bolt that a person might be unaware of,  especially in the event of a fire. These doors should have panic bars, as well  as a dead latches, which are locks that are spring-loaded and do not require  electrical power to work.  

 While some buildings have doors with locking systems that are run by  electricity, they are technically not allowed by law and more importantly, they  are dangerous. During a power outage, such doors don’t work properly and can be accessed by anyone on the street.  

 “An electromagnetic lock by itself is not allowable by law because it doesn’t have that latching [mechanism],” says Mark Berger, president of Securitech Group Inc., in Maspeth. “The $2,000 fine a building could get for being in violation stinks, but the big  cost could be lawsuits resulting from a crime committed because the building  wasn’t properly secured.”  

 Buildings are permitted to use a magnetic lock legally provided it’s part of a system that also has latching which is not dependent upon  electricity.  

 When assessing a building’s security, management should first ensure that the building entrance is secure.  Next, they should look at the outer perimeter doors, such as side doors, gates  from alleys and other entrances, to make sure they are continuously secured.  Then management should assume that every visitor to the building is a potential  problem, and they should ensure that visitors are doing what they say their  purpose for being there is. This can be assessed by monitoring the building’s CCTV system.  

 Management also should make sure that side doors are rigged with an alarm that  sounds, to prevent their use in any event but an emergency. Finally, management  should train building personnel and residents to be polite but vigilant. “Only let people in that you know,” Berger says.  

 For some buildings, a minimum level of security could be an intercom system at  the front door, and an electronic access system coupled with a low-tech latch  type lock on the door. For larger buildings, adequate security would include a  security guard monitoring the building’s entrance.  

 When it comes to potential court cases involving allegations of improper  security in a residential building, many precedents have been set regarding  what is considered a minimum level of security, says Edward Katta, vice  president of sales for Bay Ridge Security in Brooklyn. “The most important factors are do the doors work, and is there an intercom  system in place,” he says.   

 Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The  Cooperator and other publications.

 

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2 Comments

  • I live in a 13 unit condominum building were we (owners) manage it. The topic of installing security cameras came up but was denied because 2 owners were against it. Must all owners be in agreement ? One of the owners owns 2 units as investment/rental property and does not live here. Does she have a say so in regarding the security of the building ?
  • Being that its a condominium, usually, all owners will need to foot the expense of work being done in common areas as an assessment, or the money will come from your budget. .The by-laws should state what can be done by Board approval and if all residents need to be in agreement etc...so in the end, even if she doesn't have a say so in what is done, you may not be able to get her to pay for cameras, or other improvements. If your Board has a policy that all decisions regarding purchases must pass an entire building vote, then looks like you will still be without cameras.