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HOA board must do more to stop thefts, break-ins, other criminal activity

Question: Our small, mixed-use homeowner association in Los Angeles County has experienced criminal activity every month since 2010. We have a management company and a security company that haven't stopped this activity.

Our surveillance footage shows vehicle, bicycle, mail and package thefts, balcony intruders and cars being vandalized and stolen. Even though owners report these activities to management and police, nothing is done to prevent recurrences.

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Surveillance video shows criminals in our laundry and mail rooms, subterranean parking, even working out in our gym late at night, then leaving with our gym equipment. Even though keys are needed to access all these areas, intruders have devised ways around it, or they make keys on the spot.

Video shows at least a dozen people engaging in criminal activity day and night. With free rein in our complex, they're comfortable; our videos show them casually chatting with owners, holding doors open for residents, even helping carry groceries upstairs.

Crimes escalate each year, yet no additional preventive measures are taken to better secure our development. How do owners stop this?

Answer: While there may be no way to stop criminal activity completely, clearly much more needs to be done to keep everyone safe and to protect the association and owners' assets. Five years is too long to wait for a board to take definitive action.

This is the board's problem, and it's the responsibility of all owners to follow up on the board's actions or inaction.

Your board's obligation is to manage the association, which includes the investigation and implementation of reasonable measures to safeguard your community. Those safety measures must be implemented immediately.

If the board is not seeking possible solutions to these problems, it is breaching its fiduciary duties to the titleholders, and each board director may be held liable should injury occur — even to the criminals.

Allowing the escalation of criminal activity to occur could have a negative impact on the association's insurance policy coverages and premiums. The trickle-down effect of that type of negligence is that each owner may face similar insurance policy problems and premium hikes.

There are more owners than board directors, which raises the question: What are the owners doing about this? Here are some questions that should be asked at a board meeting:

What's been done to analyze these problems and determine solutions? Has anyone met with local police? Has anyone contacted postal authorities to report mail theft? What is your security company doing? Has the board considered hiring a different security company and has it looked into installing different security measures?

If questions are not answered to your satisfaction, remove the board and look to replace management and the security company. Make all new-hire contracts contingent on the reduction of these types of activities.

Most police departments have community outreach and neighborhood watch programs that may help better safeguard residents. The key is for the board and owners to assign some semblance of urgency toward taking corrective action.

Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or noexit@mindspring.com.

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