Take Swift, Strong Measures to Wipe Out Graffiti
Some may call it an art form, but graffiti does nothing to enhance the beauty of your site. In fact, it has the opposite effect.
“At its core, graffiti is vandalism,” says Chris McGoey, a security consultant based in California. “It's a crime. It creates property damage that management has to spend time and resources to fix.” Found more often around urban sites, graffiti typically is perpetrated by kids, McGoey says, simply to show “I was here.”
“Although it's seen more in urban settings, graffiti also depends on the demographic mix of the residents of your site,” he adds. And graffiti may indicate a much more serious issue. “Sometimes graffiti is gang-related, and if it's gang-related, it's a warning sign,” McGoey explains. “You need to investigate that and deal with it immediately.”
What It Says and How It Hurts
Graffiti can easily give the wrong impression about your site, McGoey says, and about you as a site manager, especially if you don't give it prompt attention. Unattended to, graffiti also can get you in trouble with HUD. These are the fundamental issues:
Affects inspection scores. HUD considers the presence of graffiti at your site to be a serious problem. REAC inspectors will cite you for the presence of graffiti in common areas of the building and/or on site exteriors. Graffiti in just one location can cost you points. If it's found in six or more locations, it's a level 3 violation, the highest level infraction.
Mars market appeal. Crude and even obscene graffiti is a real turn-off for prospective residents. Before they even see any of the units or meet other residents, they have a negative impression of your site. The presence of graffiti can suggest a lower quality of life that will keep people away.
Signals lax attitude. If you'll tolerate graffiti, what else will you view as acceptable? That's the psychological effect of graffiti, particularly if it remains for some time, McGoey points out. “If there's a lot of it, or it's long-standing, it says management doesn't care,” he notes. “It suggests a bad attitude from management, that you may not be responsive to other resident concerns. It's really a symptom of other problems at your site.”
Invites other crime. If residents begin to feel that management doesn't care, they tend to care less themselves, McGoey says. And they keep to themselves more. This kind of behavior tends to result in residents feeling more isolated. They look out for one another and the security of their property less.
On the other hand, a well-maintained and graffiti-free site sends the message that you won't tolerate the damage to your property or the disruption to your residents' quality of life. Plus, one instance of graffiti often leads to others. “Once someone writes something, it's like a magnet,” McGoey says.
Deal with It and Prevent It
McGoey says that, for the most part, it's not hard to deal with graffiti, but you must be diligent. And you must not only deal with the problem as it happens, you also must take steps to prevent it. Here are his top five suggestions:
Clean or cover within 24 hours. Have touch-up paint handy and cover the surface as soon as you can, McGoey advises. “You want to say to those who did it, ‘This is our place, and we have control, not you’,” he says. “Do not allow it to remain for even a day or two. Have a plan. Don't let the sun set—or some say don't let the sun rise—on graffiti.”
Note that painting over the graffiti is not always an option. It depends on the surface where the damage has been done—whether it's wood, metal, brick, concrete, stucco, or glass. It also makes a difference what was used to make the graffiti, such as paint, markers, crayons, or scratching.
If you need to replace the surface—glass, for example—you may need to cover the graffiti temporarily. Options include replacing the surface, painting over the graffiti, or removing the graffiti with special cleaning solutions, by scrubbing with a wire brush, or by power washing or sand blasting. Some of these methods are best performed by certified or licensed contractors. You also can find graffiti removal products at local paint and hardware stores.
Seek out the source. Find out who's behind the problem. It could be a resident, a guest, or someone who's just hanging around your site, says McGoey. “Usually, it's done by kids, and it happens where kids hang out at your site,” McGoey says. “If it happens in the same place at around the same time—say, after 3 p.m.—maybe it's done by kids on their way home from school. Read the tea leaves and narrow it down.”
Show you're serious. If your graffiti source is a resident, follow your procedures for dealing with a resident whose behavior violates the lease or house rules. If it's the child of a resident, hold the parent accountable. “Show that you will enforce the rules no matter what,” McGoey says. “View graffiti as the crime it is. Use the iron-fist approach. Let the household know that if it is a family member or guest of theirs, they are accountable and they could lose their home.”
Rally your residents. Engage your residents to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, McGoey suggests. “Ask your residents to help you out, to be watchful,” he says. “You'll find that, for the most part, they have a lot of pride in their homes and want a safe and secure environment.” McGoey also advises using your screening process to get the best mix of people as residents.
Join others to combat the problem. If your community or local police department has antigraffiti programs, get involved. Urge your residents to take advantage of the information and resources provided. If nothing exists already, consider starting an initiative of your own, such as a neighborhood watch group.
Chris McGoey, CPP, CSP, CAM: Crime Doctor, Los Angeles, CA; (951)-461-8950; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Word on Graffiti
HUD's Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspections include a check for the presence of graffiti. If graffiti is found at your site, the inspector notes it as a violation. According to the Dictionary of Deficiency Definitions, DCD Version 2.3, For Real Estate Assessment Center System (REACS) Physical Assessment Subsystem (PASS), finalized March 8, 2000, the presence of graffiti is noted as a Site Inspectable Item, under Market Appeal, and as a Common Area inspectable item. The dictionary gives the following direction to the REAC inspector:
Deficiency: You see crude inscriptions or drawings scratched, painted, or sprayed on a building surface, retaining wall, or fence that the public can see from 30 feet away.
Note: There is a difference between art forms and graffiti. Do not consider full wall murals and other art forms as graffiti.
Level of Deficiency:
o Level 1: You see graffiti in one place.
o Level 2: You see graffiti in 2-5 places.
o Level 3: You see graffiti in 6 or more places.
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