Minimize Crime at Senior Communities with Resident Screening

Minimize Crime at Senior Communities with Resident Screening


Millions of Americans look forward to retirement, when years of hard work are traded for relaxation, adventure and independence. Most assume they’ll live out their days in a safe haven, whether it be at home or in independent or assisted living senior communities.

At home, neighborhoods may change and fall into urban blight as demographics change and unsavory people arrive. The same can apply just outside of senior communities. In either scenario, elderly residents become vulnerable once they are out of their safe zone.

Yet, the unthinkable can still happen to residents inside their home or community. A benefit of moving into one of these senior communities is interacting with other residents outside of the apartment in the various amenities, like the dining room, exercise area and pool. While such activities are great for socialization and health, they expose residents to risk of intentional harm.

Crime against the elderly is a hard reality of senior communities

Reports have surfaced about elderly residents who are victimized inside their homes, even within independent and assisted senior living communities. According to a special report from the U.S. Department of Justice, about 59 percent of elderly violent crime victims reported being victimized at or near their home from 2003-13. The recent arrests of two men charged with running a prostitution ring out of a Pittsfield, Mass., senior living center is too close for comfort.

The crime rate against persons age 65 or older is at 3.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons, making the crime rate against the elderly a concern for independent and assisted care communities. With America’s growing rate of senior population, more potential victims are entering the playing field by moving out of their homes and into communities where everyone shares the common bond of old age.

High risk of fraud

Fraud is one crime where seniors are likely targets, says the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Many older people are easy marks for con artists because they live alone, may have no family and have saved their money. Also, seniors make poor witnesses, the agency says, because their memory may fail; they may not realize they’ve been swindled for weeks. The promise of products that increase cognitive function, virility, physical conditions and anti-cancer properties, just to name a few, are often too tempting for seniors.

The list of other crimes – including assaults and theft – goes on. And it’s not limited to mischievous neighbors at senior communities. Criminals posing as staff have bilked residents out of thousands of dollars, and caregivers have been hauled off to jail for physically and mentally abusing residents.

These are very hard realities of an industry that banks its reputation on caring for America’s aging population. Fortunately, it’s not epidemic, but the safety of our elderly must be addressed from the legal system to the site level.

Legislation passed enhances law enforcement against crimes targeting seniors

As our population gets older, ensuring senior safety in any home will become greater. The U.S. Census Bureau notes that the surge in the elderly population since 1990 will continue through 2020, when 16.8 percent of the population is expected to be 65 and older.

Last year, legislation was passed to enhance law enforcement efforts against crimes that target seniors. A bill authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is aimed at identifying and prosecuting those who commit crimes including financial exploitation, fraud, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect against the elderly.

The bill has a special provision that those who commit fraud against the elderly through telemarketing and email will pay stiffer penalties. Convicted criminals are required to turn over any property or proceeds from the fraud.

Also, the Justice Department must train FBI agents to investigate and prosecute crimes against the elderly as well as learn specialized ways to communicate with elderly abuse victims.

Senior living communities can bolster a line of defense

One senior housing expert says property managers at senior living communities have a unique opportunity to stand out in the fight against crime against the elderly. Running a background check or screen may uncover some useful information that could have put the property and its residents at risk.

Most off all, screening applicants offers a sense of security for residents and family. The practice is the pinnacle of reputation management, which often is considered only to be coping with what’s online.

“You can improve the reputation of the facility,” says Ian McIntosh, an industry principal at LeasingDesk Screening. “The fact you are doing background screening says you’re making sure that your residents are safe and protected. That’s something that the senior housing industry needs to take into consideration.”

McIntosh says it only makes sense for seniors or their guarantors to pay a small screening fee when applying for housing at an independent living or assisted living senior community. Giving elderly residents the peace of mind knowing they are safe in their home is worth more than the minimal cost of a screen.

The practice is a great marketing opportunity for the community, he said.

“You’re letting the residents and their family know that you’re looking out for their best interests.”

A solution that protects residents and makes sense

Resident screening is a common practice in multifamily housing and is becoming more mainstream in senior living. RealPage’s Resident Screening not only reveals an applicant’s rental history but uses an out-of-network search to find any criminal history.

Property managers who employ screening and background checks could prevent a life-altering act on a resident and a bad rap against the community.

“More and more people are moving to assisted living and independent senior communities,” McIntosh said. “The more people you have, the greater chance that something could happen. The cost of a screen is so minute compared to the other costs of these communities, why wouldn’t you?”


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

One response to “Minimize Crime at Senior Communities with Resident Screening”

  1. Elizabeth Hamilton says:

    Excellent article! You might add to this an article that helps managers handle senior-on-senior bullying within the apartment building.

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