Questions about apartment security and a gang takeover of my building?
- My rental property was taken over by Los Angeles gang members.
- How can I get them out and make my building safe?
- I called the police and was told they can’t remove them, is that true?
A Crime School listener named Victor contacted me asking for advice about apartment security and gang takeover of his building. I spoke to him on the phone to gather more details.
Here is a summary of what Victor said:
- His elderly mother owns a two-story four-plex apartment building in a high-crime neighborhood of Los Angeles
- His mother is physically unable to manage the property any longer
- He lives eighty-miles away with his own career and family. He is trying to help out his mother part-time on weekends
- The building is taken over by gangsters who he believes forced entry and is living in the second-floor units
- He can’t find leases or paperwork on any of the tenants so he doesn’t know for certain who is authorized to live there
- He used to get HAP payments from one section-8 tenant, but no one is paying rent now
- He has called the police. They say it’s a civil matter and cannot remove the occupants since they say they’re tenants
- He has parked across the street during the day and night and observed a lot of gangster foot-traffic in and out of the units
- He suspects drug activity and prostitution is going on based on his observations of foot traffic
- There are a fence and gate around the property, but someone disabled the locks
- He wants to clean out the whole building and start over but doesn’t know where to begin and he is afraid
- There are two abandoned cars, probably stolen, parked in his lot
- He wants to know if he should buy video cameras or hire a security guard patrol to get proof of the crime
High-density, high- crime neighborhood
Your Response to a Gang Takeover
- Your first priority is the safety of any tenants, unit occupants, and even trespassers.
- Next, you need to make an assessment of who is living there and the condition of every unit.
- Search for paperwork, leases, rent checks, receipts, deposit accounts, HUD correspondence, etc.
- You need to address this problem quickly, but in an organized manner with a plan.
- Until you get some training, hire a property management consultant that specializes in distressed rental housing to assist with:
- lawful evictions.
- emergency board-up.
- a building rehabilitation strategy.
- new lease documentation.
- Develop an action plan and detailed to-do list with a distressed property consultant.
- Consider taking time off work, if possible, to address the major issues all at once.
- Determine if it’s in your family’s best interest to sell the building or heavily reinvest in it.
Plan of Action Timeline
Partner with the Angeles Police Department immediately about criminal activity
- LAPD 77th Street Community Station is a half-mile away.
- Introduce yourself to the police station Captain and solicit support.
- Meet your police beat-officers and patrol Sergeant (i.e. beats are now called cars).
- Ask for a free property CPTED security survey by the crime prevention unit.
- Follow the LAPD advice about posting no loitering and trespass signs.
Partner with the local apartment association
- Contact and join your local apartment owners association.
- Get a crash course in property management and tenancy rules for gang takeover.
- Learn about more in-depth educational opportunities for new property managers.
- Obtain proper lease documentation and seek training to comply with California landlord/tenant regulations.
- Seek referrals to qualified property management consultants.
Once supported by law enforcement and guided by a property consultant
- Begin to take back control of your property.
- Go door-to-door to establish if anyone has legal residency (e.g. lease or rental agreement).
- You have a duty to reasonably protect any lawful tenants and guests from harm.
- You may need a power of attorney if your mother is unable to participate.
- Ask the police for a civil standby or hire a sheriff’s deputy to serve notices or hire a contract security agency for back-up during initial contacts.
- Verify the building eligibility status with HUD (Dept of Housing & Urban Development).
- Deliver, serve, or post properly executed notices on all occupied units, if warranted, to avoid costly unlawful-detainer delays.
- Immediately secure vacant unoccupied units as they become available (e.g. board up).
- Remove any stolen or abandoned property according to regulations to avoid any future claims or retaliation.
- Begin property assessment and make decisions about sale or rehabilitation.
The property will take time and money to be made safer from gang takeover
- Street gangs have claimed this property or intersection as their turf, for now.
- Gangsters from the neighborhood will try to regain control if you walk away without capable guardians to monitor it.
- Clean up gang graffiti, keep well-lighted at night, check on it several times a day (e.g. remote video or patrol service).
- Go meet your neighbors and start an LAPD Neighborhood Watch program (they will be both mad and glad to see you).
- Ask the police to help with discouraging loitering or trespass while vacant.
- Verify if your property is fit for habitation and has a permit for occupancy.
- Until the property is reasonably safe do not permit occupancy or allow a single tenant to reside alone.
- Let your property management consultant guide you through a 100% lease-up with qualified and protective tenants.
- Seek real estate investment advice whether this property can be made profitable, under the circumstances.
- It is not reasonable to rent to tenants until significant security improvements are made.
- Your exposure to civil premises liability is very-high if gangsters attack a tenant or lawful guest.
- Investigate if you have HUD eligibility, HAP contract, mortgage, etc.
- Investigate property debt service, cost of rehab, and if adequate insurance exists.
- Make a rehab budget estimate and profit & loss forecast if you decide to keep the property.
- Get professional advice about a gang takeover.
- Shortcuts and quick fixes will not solve the problem.
- Get organized so you can act decisively.
- Make a detailed action plan and timeline.
- Execute the plan fully according to the security plan.
- Current conditions will quickly be improved.
- Victor listened and found professional support.
- Victor is selling the property for a good price to a rehab specialist.
- Victor’s family, the neighborhood, and future tenants will benefit.
Terms Mentioned in this Episode
- HUD – Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Section 8 – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development manages Section 8 of the Housing Act.
- HAP contracts – System for regulating Housing Assistance Payments.
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