EPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Life-Saving Safety Tips

The area of staff safety can sometimes be forgotten, as we tend to focus our energy on other issues such as office systems, procedures and new legislation. Debbie Palmer looks at how we must all be more aware of safety concerns.

Does your office have a procedure for security?

If not, utilise your next meeting to discuss some basic security issues. As Asset Managers we are very important business people. We deal with landlords and tenants at different stages and times in their lives.

Once you have been in property management for a short while, I am sure you can relate to the many stories where a tenant or landlord is upset, emotional, angry and even excited.

When dealing with safety issues, it is important to understand that different situations in people’s lives can set off different emotions. As a property manager we are often unaware of a tenant’s personal situation. There are a number of circumstances that can affect the tenant’s behaviour, such as:

  •  Loss of employment
  • Sickness or death in the family
  • Domestic violence
  • Mental illness
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stress
  • Involvement in illegal activities
  • Drug, alcohol or gambling addictions
  • Relationship breakdown

The list goes on.

As property managers we need to be better equipped to read situations and people, and put ourselves in their shoes when dealing with irate or difficult clients.

One of the most common situations that can become a concern is when you need to evict a tenant from the property. Some tenants have been known to be extremely aggressive, threatening and on the rare occasion even become violent with staff.

I heard a recent story where a property manager had to evict a tenant that was known as a ‘difficult’ tenant as he always seemed to be under the influence of drugs or intoxicated. The property manager felt uncomfortable delivering the notice, so they took a member of the sales team with them. When the notice was issued the tenant was angry and agitated and then said, ‘I know where you live, I know what car you drive and I will be watching you’. The property manager was quite young, lived alone, and naturally felt a little scared.

To reduce your team’s risk and improve your internal safety procedures, take the time to discuss the following with them:

  • Ensure all staff have a mobile phone with both the police and office numbers entered into the speed dial function. Establish a code word or phrase to signal that you are in trouble – i.e. ‘I will meet you at the next appointment,’ or ‘The property address is 4 Blue Street’. (You can brainstorm your own code word.)
  • Educate all staff members to call the office every hour on the hour to let reception know what properties they have been to. By doing this you can track where all staff members are, in case of an unpleasant event
  • Keep a log of all inspections in time order
  • Do not accompany anyone in your car
  • If in doubt do not enter a property. Listen to your inner voice or gut instinct
  • Put all staff through self-defence classes (this could be a great team building exercise)
  • Never leave a staff member in the office alone
  • Keep changing the time of day and the route to do the banking, maybe even the staff member.

If you do have a disagreement with a tenant or landlord, make sure you tell your department manager, principal and receptionist. If this person comes into the office to speak with you, your staff will be aware that it may be a good idea for another member of the team to sit in on your conversation. If you are threatened by someone, lodge a complaint with the local police station. It is important to document any serious threats.

The unfortunate thing is that we can never be fully prepared for the unexpected; but we can prevent a lot of uncomfortable situations if there is a procedure to follow.

Additional tips to help minimise the risk within your office:

  • Personal belongings such as bags, purses and wallets to be kept out of the public eye
  • Password-protect your computers and be mindful of where you save or write the passwords
  • Limit cash flow within the office by adopting alternative payment methods for the tenants
  • Ensure that side or back doors are always locked
  • Install a panic button.

The first step is to recognise that a person is becoming agitated. If you don’t spot the tell-tale signs and manage the situation correctly, it can lead to the person becoming aggressive. Once they become aggressive, it is often a lot harder to manage, so try to read the warning signs.

What are the warning signs?

  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Angry facial expression
  • Threats or gestures
  • Delusional behaviour
  • Intoxication
  • Loud, angry speech

What approach should you take if you find yourself confronted with an aggressive or violent person?

  • Ensure that you can get them to an open area, preferably where other people are present
  • Know your exit points
  • Know your crisis-management procedure
  • Alert someone nearby
  • Avoid prolonged eye contact
  • Talk in a calm and confident manner
  • Emphasise desire to help
  • Give the other person personal space
  • Focus on the immediate problem or issue
  • Ask what action they would like you to take.

If you feel isolated or that the conversation is becoming too confrontational and you are concerned, make an excuse to remove yourself from the situation or conversation and find back-up or help. ‘Do you mind if I go to the file to get some information?’ or ‘Let me get you a glass of water and we can sit down and talk this through’.

The main area of concern outside the office is when you are conducting inspections or visiting a rental property.

Tips for Inspections

  1. When carrying out inspections ensure that you document the properties you are inspecting and the time of the inspection
  2. Let other staff members know your movements and ensure that they are aware of the properties you will be inspecting
  3. When carrying out inspections adopt an office policy of calling or texting the receptionist every 30 minutes or every hour to advise of your movements. If the office has not heard from you, ensure that they call you
  4. Always ensure that you have a mobile phone with you when carrying out inspections. Program your local police or ‘000’ into your mobile
  5. Always take your mobile phone with you into the property. Don’t leave it in the car
  6. When entering a property, take a moment to stand at the front door and assess the internal environment. Do not open the door and walk straight in
  7. Rely on your intuition. If you feel uneasy about entering a property, do not enter. You may need to make up a story that you have left your pen in the car or that you have forgotten something
  8. Always know the movements of the tenants when inspecting the property. Try and keep them in front of you. Use comments like, ‘After you’
  9. When entering the property take a moment to notice where the external door exits are
  10. If carrying out prospective tenant inspections, adopt an office policy never allowing tenants in your car. You can advise the tenant that it is your office policy to meet them at the property as your insurance does not cover third-party passengers during work hours. If the tenant states that they do not have a car, you can suggest that this would be a good opportunity to trial the public transport system to see if it is user friendly in accessing the property
  11. Always ensure that you obtain the prospective tenant’s contact details. Prior to meeting the tenant at the property, ring to confirm your appointment and to verify that the contact number is for the prospective tenant
  12. Ensure that you take the time to qualify prospective tenants to allow you the opportunity to evaluate their demeanour.

Tips for Night Safety

If you are alone in the office in the evening or on a weekend, take extra precautions to ensure your personal safety.

  • Tell a friend or colleague where you are
  • Keep the door closed and locked while you are in the office
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times
  • Call ‘000’ if you see or hear anything suspicious
  • Arrange to meet a friend or call someone when leaving the office.

Tips for Fire Safety

Does your office have regular drills and an action plan to evacuate the building?

Prevention is the key! The fire authorities recommend every office has a simple safety checklist to prevent injury that could be caused by fire. Check your State fire authority’s website for more information and fact sheets.

With a number of tragic incidents over the last few years occuring while going about day-to-day duties, I cannot stress enough the importance of making personal safety a number one priority for your next team meeting.

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Debbie Palmer

Debbie Palmer is the Managing Director of the PPM Group (a national company specialising in property management workflow systems, training and coaching). Debbie is a multi-award winner for property management excellence and is well respected for facilitating in the process of creating high performing, productive and profitable teams. For more information visit ppmgroup.com.au.