QUESTION: Recently, we’ve seen an increase in vagrancies, home & car break-ins, and trespassing. I’m trying to organize a safety committee, one that would oversee risk concerns and advise the board. Unfortunately, our management company said that due to liabilities we could not form a safety committee. I realize this is a touchy subject, but would greatly appreciate any light you could shed on this matter.

ANSWER: I have great respect for mangers and management companies but legal advice is not a service they should be offering. Attorneys are generally better at that sort of thing.

Vagrants. More than 20% of the nation’s homeless live in California. Despite all the social spending from Sacramento (or because of it), the problem seems to be getting worse. In recent years, California has seen a dramatic increase in property crimes while Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida have seen decreases. As a result, many California cities have been adopting ordinances against sleeping in cars, camping in public places, panhandling, and urinating in public.

Safety Committee. The ordinances are only as good as the enforcement. In addition to appealing to the police for help, associations should tighten their security policies and procedures. Many think that forming a safety committee creates unacceptable levels of liability for the association–I disagree. An unsafe community where the board does nothing creates more liability than forming a committee that makes safe/security recommendations.

Insurance. Your association’s D&O insurance typically covers committees of the board. A safety committee can inventory potential problems and make recommendations regarding lighting, security cameras, and so on. Provided the board acts on those recommendations, it makes the community safer and protects the association from potential litigation. Where HOAs run into problems is when they arm their committees. You may have trouble getting D&O insurance if you arm your volunteers with 45 caliber hand guns.

RECOMMENDATION: If your community is suffering from vagrancies, home and car break-ins, and trespassing, it’s time for the board to step up and do something. They should either form a committee to survey the development and make recommendations. Or, hire a security consultant to do it. Then, implement the recommendations.