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What Are the Top Security Concerns for Off-Campus Student Housing?

Posted by Joseph Curd on Sep 14, 2022

One of the biggest challenges for student housing is reassuring parents that their students’ safety is a priority. Regardless of where your property is located, all student housing communities face similar challenges. They contend with unwelcome visitors, conflict, and trespassers.

Off-campus housing needs to take a layered approach to access because of the diversity of people that come to the property. These include vendors, prospects, roommates, friends, and many more.

Crime doesn’t discriminate. Intruders often target off-campus housing because they provide softer targets than on-campus housing. Criminals are generally less likely to go on campus as security is tighter. They know that off-campus student living properties present more options for criminal activities, as they’re more open and less supervised than on-campus units.

Moreover, off-campus employees and residents will not know everyone. Opportunistic crooks frequently take advantage of this anonymity to make their way into the property. Site staff also has a lot on their plate, especially during the turn, so they don’t always catch potential problems.

Top Issues for Off-Campus Housing

Let’s review the top issues affecting security for most student living assets. If a property wants to attract students, it needs to close these gaps to reassure protective parents.

1. Unlimited access to off-campus housing

The challenge with off-campus housing is that people come and go all day, every day. The property may have security but it could be challenging if trespassers enter the building by tailgating or piggybacking.

Tailgating is when someone who doesn’t live in off-campus housing spots an open door and uses it to enter the building. Piggybacking is when a student resident props the door open for an unauthorized person and lets them in the building. Both are big problems in off-campus communities.

It doesn’t take much for someone to tailgate because no one will know that person doesn’t belong. Human beings often like to be helpful. If a resident enters the building and a stranger follows behind, the resident naturally holds the door open to allow the stranger to enter.

With the constant flow of people coming and going on the property, you’d think criminals wouldn’t risk being seen. However, the opposite is true, as they use the crowd to blend in, accessing many properties in the middle of the day.  We call this the “acting like they belong” tactic.  Clever criminals will move along with the crowd, which helps them blend in. If your property lacks access controls, anyone can (and does) enter your property.

It’s also important to consider public common areas like the fitness room, mailroom, laundry room, and meeting spaces. These can put the property at risk for outsiders, as well as insiders, to cause problems.

2. The lack of lighting and ease of access in parking areas

Some thieves don’t try to enter the building. Instead, they go after parking areas, especially with the rapid rise of catalytic converter thefts. A WFAA story reports State Farm has paid out more than $20 million in claims for catalytic converter thefts in 2021. This is an increase of $3 million from what they paid out in the previous year.

It only takes a minute or two to swipe a catalytic converter from vehicles. Criminals roll under the vehicle and quickly cut them out. A lot of them may work in gangs, so they can easily remove many converters from a single parking lot.

Even with people coming and going, it won’t always stop them. NBCDFW tells the story of a woman who lives in an apartment building who shares that she has had three catalytic converters stolen from her car in the parking area. This happened despite her taking extra steps to protect her catalytic converter after the first theft. She had a muffler shop weld rebar around the second catalytic converter. Thieves still took it.

On top of this, she smartly parked her car in a well-lit parking space close to her residence. The news story quoted a mechanic who reveals that a cage won’t stop thieves even though some weigh a bulky 30 pounds. Crooks used a small, battery-operated saw with metal cutting blades to remove the part in fewer than two minutes.

Stealing converters is very profitable as thieves get thousands of dollars for a few minutes of work. To make things worse, there’s a shortage of metals that are found in catalytic converters. That is responsible for driving up the cost of the metals and has led to a shortage of replacement parts.

Off-campus housing properties also need to be concerned about smash-and-grabs. This is where burglars break a window, grab anything of value, and get away quickly. These remain a problem.

3. Students aren’t always on their best behavior

I am sure none of your student resident’s have ever misbehaved, but we have heard some really interesting stories about unwanted student behaviors over the years!  Who would have guessed 18–22-year-olds, away from their parents, would act so crazy?

Students don’t make the best personal safety decisions.  Our team has witnessed firsthand what the pool parties look like during move-in week, and some of them would scare any dedicated parent to their core.  Moreover, if you think intoxicated young adults are wild during the day, consider most of these parties don’t stop when the sun goes down.  However, as the sun goes down your liability goes up…drastically.  Drowning accidents are a well-known cause of significant loss for apartment owners and operators; this risk is significantly compounded with student demographics.

And the damage with Student Living investors spending record capital funds on boutique amenities, there are more opportunities than ever for painful student-caused damages, and potentially lost NOI, especially when the site staff has no evidence of who caused the loss.

These are challenging problems. Fortunately, they can be solved.

How Off-Campus Student Housing Can Overcome These Challenges

Parents place a high priority on their student’s security.  There are two proactive security options that greatly reduce these common security challenges. Many of the parents are Generation X and prefer apartments with video surveillance per a survey from National Apartment Association. Also, parents prefer to go with off-campus housing that takes a proactive approach to protect their students. Let’s review your two best solutions.

Remote video surveillance

Most traditional security technologies are reactive in that they don’t catch anything until after a crime takes place. Remote video surveillance is a proactive security solution that can help avert crime.

Not all video surveillance systems with monitoring are created equal. There are still some cameras on the market that show grainy videos. They don’t give enough information to make an identification or piece together what happened. Video surveillance has come a long way from that.

The way remote video surveillance works is that a security specialist can customize a security solution for off-campus housing. They can install security cameras in strategic places around the building and perimeter. The specialist can verify the security that the cameras can view the entire property including the parking spaces, all entrances and exits, common areas, and other places around the perimeter.

Trained monitoring operators watching the screens don’t work alone. They get help from video analytics, which eases the operator’s load. The video analytics technology provides automatic alerts, notifying the monitoring operator. This person isn’t located on your property. They work in a remote location, which keeps them safe and prevents them from conspiring with any potential criminal elements.

Whenever someone suspicious enters the property, or a resident is using an amenity outside of regular hours, the monitoring operator can issue an audio warning. If that doesn’t stop the unwanted behavior, the operator can call law enforcement and keep them updated while they address the issue. The police often arrive and arrest criminals before damage occurs or becomes much worse.

Video surveillance is more affordable than you think. You could see a return on your security investment in as few as four months.

Access control system

One of the best technologies for managing off-campus housing access is by using an access control system. An access control system lets you keep the doors locked at all times. Employees and residents can get in with an access card. It may be possible to use the student ID card to control access. It depends on the technology and vendor.

One thing to know is that it’s possible for piggybacking and tailgating to happen with an access control system. Residents need to be educated not to let strangers into the building. Nonetheless, this can be avoided by integrating remote video surveillance.

The way to help prevent this is by integrating access control and remote video surveillance to watch over the entrance. Recall that video surveillance depends on video analytics and human intelligence to catch problems early. If anyone tries to piggyback into the building, then video analytics alerts the trained monitoring operator. The operator can issue a warning and ask the person who is piggybacking to leave the building. This takes the pressure off the resident who may feel awkward about the situation.

During non-monitoring hours our cameras continue to record. Should an incident happen then, a team of video analysts can search through the footage from all relevant cameras and present you with an edited clip to use in any investigations.

This is just one of many benefits of an integrated security system. This solution can help enhance security, save on costs, and mitigate risks. One way for access control and security cameras to work together is by matching the time stamp from the access control with the video to determine when someone entered the building or a specific area on the property.

How to Get Started with Off-Campus Housing Security

Off-campus housing has different security requirements than other industries and even other apartment and multi-family residential properties. The place to start is by reaching out to security companies that have experience in off-campus housing.

Stealth works with many apartment communities. When you choose Stealth, our security experts can create a custom security system for your property. We design right-sized solutions that give you what you need, nothing more.

Another feature you will want in your security system is a system health check. This verifies the security cameras continue to work properly. These checks can be done without stepping foot on your property. Most of the problems can be fixed remotely.

Want to learn more about security for multifamily residential properties? Pick up your copy of the Complete Guide to Securing Your Apartment Building. This guide focuses on options for securing your off-campus building to protect your residents, students, visitors, vendors, and employees.

You’ll learn about four lines of defense that bolster apartment security. And finally, it will show you how to select the right security system that fits your budget. To help you find the right security partner, use this video surveillance checklist or contact us.