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Owners’ Corporation Law - March 2016

03 Mar 2016

The impacts of crime in high-rise buildings

As we all can tell just from looking out our windows,  high-rise buildings now make up the predominant form of new housing in the Melbourne inner-suburb areas.

Local and state governments have implemented changes to planning legislation to permit high-density housing in an effort to combat the pressures of maintaining and repairing a sprawling infrastructure asset base.

The changing housing and social environment will mean that more and more Australians will be calling an apartment their home in the coming years. However, little consideration has been given as to how the government’s changes to its policies might impact on levels of crime and perceptions of safety and the fear of crime within these vertical communities.

However, research academics are finding considerable empirical evidence to suggest that the interconnections between transport networks, land use, and population density can contribute a great deal to explain the crime rates at certain places and at certain times.

Dr Sacha Reid (Griffith University) and others recently published a report to the Criminology Research Advisory Council called Crime in High-Rise Buildings: Planning for Vertical Community Safety.

From a large sample of high-rise buildings in Queensland, the report rather unsurprisingly found that buildings with predominantly long-term residential tenure recorded the lowest levels of crime. Buildings with short-term tenancies only (such as hotels and serviced apartments) recorded the next highest rates of crime, while the runaway leader were buildings with mixed tenure (being buildings that had a combination of both short and long-term tenures) which reported the highest amount of crime.

Surprisingly, whether or not a building had a sophisticated security system, roving security patrols or had an on-site building manager mattered little in the reported crime rates at a building.

The report makes for powerful reading for committee members, building managers, security contractors and owners’ corporation managers.

There is great potential that some high-rise buildings in and around our local communities might be labeled as “risky facilities” in the future, which could lead to a diminution in value of all of the apartments within those buildings.

Often, the design of the building can lend itself to being targeted by criminals, or can otherwise raise the fear of crime amongst residents.

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) is often not taken seriously by developers and builder (nor the councils – in approving the buildings).

However, owners’ corporations should take charge of the security of their communities and should consider engaging an expert to advise them on security measures to shore up entry points and to ensure that ground floor units are not easy to access.

The presence of an on-site manager can also act as a great crime deterrent in and of itself. A manager that works 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday would be unable to react to matters quickly and this can greatly enhance resident’s perception of safety and guardianship.

Security patrols are another key component of regulating vertical community safety. Anecdotally however, I have seen many owners’ corporations that have terminated the security patrols from the annual budget in an effort to save rising costs.

The one point that I would note is that owners’ corporations should consider approaching their neighbours to share the costs of security patrol during nighttime, weekends and at special events, thus each paying a smaller cost to receive the service.

Much more research needs to be done in this very important area, and I would encourage local and state governments to impose greater restrictions on developers and builders at town planning stage to ensure that CPTED is strictly planned for and enforced.

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