Apartment safety expert weighs in on the law designed to hold landlords accountable

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Following our I-TEAM investigation on apartment safety, the director of a company who conducts safety assessments on apartments shared his thoughts on the law that’s designed to make apartments safer.

Many attorneys and law groups say Florida landlords were required to provide a “reasonably safe” premises for tenants.

But what does reasonably safe mean?

We asked News4JAX viewers what makes them feel safe or unsafe in their apartment complex and why. One person said, “I don’t feel safe in my complex. There are a lot of nights when the lights in stairwells and parking lots never come on. Total darkness.” Another person said, “I live in a JHA low-income apartment building. It has 24-hour security, also a security key fob to get into the building. I feel very safe.’

Florida law states property owners could have a presumption against liability if a crime happens on their property, meaning they are not responsible. But, they do need to follow several steps designed to make the environment safer, like security cameras at exits and lit common areas.

By January 2025, owners must remain in substantial compliance following a CPTED assessment, which stands for crime prevention through environmental design.

RESOURCES: Crime prevention through environmental design in Parker, CO | CPTED report on bicycling and walking | Effectiveness of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) in reducing robberies

We asked Mario de Graaf, Director of Special Projects for Signal Security what he thinks about the wording and what that means for applying CPTED and the assessments. “Well, saying substantial is really vague, of course. And that is where I have an issue with the statute now is that, how do you prove that you are in substantial compliance?”

Mario de Graaf has conducted around 200 CPTED assessments ranging from lower to higher income properties. “So, what we look at is, what does the property already have in place to prevent crime from occurring? But also, how can we improve it?”

WATCH: Safe Space: Who’s responsible when a crime occurs on a property?

When it comes to proving that these assessments actually work and protect the people living in the apartments, de Graaf said, “We’ll have to look at studies of course, but from my experience conducting all these assessments, I’ve seen, first of all, really positive interactions with the residents after we improve lighting. And after we made all these improvements to trim down the shrubbery and make sure that they can safely navigate their surroundings, their perception of safety is increased.”

He could not provide us data from his company but says they’ve seen a reduction in burglaries on cars, and other safety improvements. de Graff thinks Florida’s law needs to be amended to give specific details for property owners to follow, like specific lighting levels for places like walkways and parking lots.

“I don’t think that this statute (House Bill 837) is going to lead to more victims, because like I mentioned, it’s going to allow people to more safely navigate their surroundings, it’s going to be deterring crime on its own by increasing the chances of getting apprehended. So, I think this statute is a positive. But, I do think there are some things that can be improved.”

As the law stands now, those assessments are reviewed every three years or as often as necessary.

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