Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Are Your Leasing Consultants Safe?

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Are Your Leasing Consultants Safe?

Article excerpt

Dusk. Karen, the leasing consultant, sits alone at her desk in the deserted leasing office, reviewing the day's visitor cards. Outside a shadowed figure slowly approaches, stops to survey the area, then walks to the window and looks inside. Quietly the figure enters through the open office door. Startled by footsteps, Karen focuses all her attention on the figure silhouetted against the growing darkness. "Hi. I'm here to see an apartment."

The accessibility of the leasing office to the general public and the vulnerability of leasing consultants showing apartments is rapidly turning residential leasing into a high-risk job. Assaults and rapes involving leasing consultants have increased substantially in the past five years. No longer can managers assume that, "It can't happen here."

In a recent article in USA Today, it was estimated that there were 683,000 unreported rapes each year in the United States.

A study by Crime Search of Houston, Texas, found that at the typical apartment community in the area 42 percent of all crimes, including theft, burglary, rape, assault, and criminal mischief, occurred between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Legal terms such as "duty to protect," "foreseeable security negligence," and "premises liability" are now appearing in $1-million settlements for assaults on residential properties.

Faced with the daunting statistics, what can real estate managers do to protect their employees from attack?

Training for Awareness

Paxton Quigley, author of Not an Easy Target (Prentice Hall), lists boundary setting, awareness, body language, and self-protection training as the four positive areas that will enable the potential crime victim to surprise the assailant and possibly forestall an attack.

Boundary Setting

Leasing consultants should be trained to establish and maintain personal body boundaries when showing apartments or taking applications. This invisible space shield extends one's mental and physical strength. According to Ray Hazelwood of the FBI Behavioral Science Services Unit at Quantico, Va., many assailants are more likely to attack a person who appears unassertive or defenseless. The boundary area is an arm's length, 360 degrees around the body.

Assess yourself and the image you are projecting. Dress for work in business attire that projects a no-nonsense attitude. Keep that high-fashion look for after hours. Avoid expensive jewelry that might trigger an assault that later gets out of hand. Wear shoes that enable you to keep your balance and move quickly.

Some potential assailants will use tricks so that intended victims will temporarily lower their boundaries. One leasing person I know was distracted when a rapist started batting at her long hair and saying "There's a bee in your hair."

Body Language

Body language training is an extension of boundary setting that trains agents to appear assertive and confident, even in threatening situations. Quigley states that, "An assertive, self-confident person may prevent as many as 80 percent of potential assaults."

Practice maintaining strong eye contact, posturing with confidence, walking briskly with purpose, standing straight and proud, and keeping hands visible.

Avoid weak body language signals such as downcast eyes, appearing confused or afraid,ambling along without purpose, and appearing unaware of your surroundings.

Leasing professionals can practice improving body language in front of a mirror. Make strong eye contact with yourself. Show anger. Raise your arm. Point and yell, "Stay back" or "Stay away!" Give strong commands, such as "No." Do this three times for several days until you have achieved the image you want.

Next, work in pairs and role play these same exercises. Repeat 10 times.

Practice on a stranger (not a prospect). Bring in someone the leasing consultant does not know, and stage a mock incident.

Awareness

Careful isn't good enough; awareness is your goal. …

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