Train Staff on How to Root Out Unauthorized Occupants
Unauthorized occupants can cause a host of problems at your community. Relatives or acquaintances of residents who move in without management’s knowledge are often the source of a site’s crime problems. Also, if an unauthorized occupant does something wrong at your community, such as damaging a unit, you’ll have a hard time holding him liable for his action since you have no lease agreement with him. In addition, unauthorized occupants can overtax your site’s systems, such as your hot water heater and available parking spaces.
Also, unauthorized occupants can have negative tax credit compliance implications. Oftentimes unauthorized occupants bring additional income to the household that may have tax credit compliance implications for your site.
You can avoid these problems by training your staff on how to root out unauthorized occupants from your site. We’ve put together a Model Memo that you can adapt and use to train your staff on how to discourage unauthorized occupancy, detect unauthorized occupants, and deal with unauthorized occupants they may discover.
Changes in Household Size
If an unauthorized occupant is actually a contributing household member, you may consider legitimizing the unauthorized occupant’s status by going through the process of adding the person as a new household member. Doing so shows your state housing agency that you’re being vigilant about tax credit compliance and could keep you from violating the available unit rule if your site is a mixed-use LIHTC site.
The addition of new members to an existing low-income household requires income certification for the new member of the household, including third-party verification. The treatment will depend on whether the building is a mixed-use or 100 percent LIHTC building.
For mixed-use sites, the new tenant’s income is added to the income disclosed on the existing household’s most recent tenant income certification. The household continues to be income-qualified, and the income of the new member is taken into consideration with the income of the existing household for purposes of the Available Unit Rule under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section (§) 42(g)(2)(D).
If the site consists of 100 percent LIHTC units, then the new tenant’s income is added to the income disclosed on the existing household’s original income certification. Here, since the owner will always rent the next available unit to an income-qualified household as a low-income unit, the available unit rule won’t be violated if the household’s income exceeds 140 percent of the income limit or 170 percent in deep rent-skewed projects.
Give Staff Tips for Rooting Out Unauthorized Occupants
Since your staff members are your eyes and ears at your site, you need to train them on how to root out unauthorized occupants from your community. To do so, give them a memo, like our Model Memo, with the following tips on how to discourage unauthorized occupants from settling at your site in the first place; detect unauthorized occupants; and deal with unauthorized occupants once they’re discovered:
Discouraging unauthorized occupants. Most sites have guest policies that limit the number of guests residents can have, as well as the amount of time guests can stay at the site. Most guest policies require residents to get management’s approval if guests need to stay longer than the amount of time set out in the guest policy. Having a good guest policy in place and requiring your staff to enforce it can help discourage guests from becoming unauthorized occupants.
Detecting unauthorized occupants. One way to detect unauthorized occupants is to look for parking permits in residents’ cars. You should require residents to post parking permits in their cars, and instruct your staff to look for such permits. If your parking lot doesn’t have assigned parking and unauthorized occupants park their cars in your parking lot, residents may not be able to find parking or they may have to park far from their units. Requiring parking permits will allow your staff to easily identify cars that don’t belong at your site.
You should also require guests to park in designated spaces only. Require all guests to park in designated visitor spaces only, says security expert Chris McGoey. Having a designated parking area for guests will help staff determine whether any guests have overstayed their welcome. Instruct your staff to check this parking area daily and to jot down the license plate numbers of any cars that have been there too long, so that they can be monitored further.
Another way to detect the possibility of unauthorized occupants at your site is to periodically audit unit occupants. You should have your staff do a periodic audit of unit occupants. This will give you a record of who’s living in the unit. And it will send your residents the message that you’re paying attention to who’s living in the units and that you won’t tolerate unauthorized occupants.
Your management staff can do an audit by sending residents a letter every six months or so that asks them to list the occupants of their unit and return the letter to the management office. The letter should also remind residents that the lease requires any new adult occupants to be brought to management’s attention so that they can be screened like all residents and, if approved, process the appropriate income certifications and be added to the lease.
If your staff’s suspicions are triggered through unauthorized parked cars or some other means, staff can make a direct inquiry. A staff member should simply knock on the door of the unit in question and casually ask who’s living there, says McGoey. If this direct approach isn’t feasible, staff can use other methods, such as asking residents in neighboring units if they’ve noticed someone new living in the unit in question, or asking members of your maintenance staff if they believe an unauthorized occupant is living in a certain unit.
Another way to detect unauthorized occupants is through inspections of fire and safety devices. Have your management staff schedule visits for maintenance staff to inspect fire and safety devices. This will give your maintenance staff an opportunity to look around for signs of unauthorized occupants, says McGoey. Your maintenance staff shouldn’t go through a resident’s drawers during this visit, he warns. They should simply do a visual inspection for such clues as multiple beds in bedrooms, or sleeping bags strewn on the floor, which may indicate that unauthorized occupants are living in the unit. And they should report anything they notice to management.
Lastly, staff should question strangers to ascertain occupancy status. Instruct staff to approach any stranger they notice at the site and casually ask where the stranger lives. A staff member can do this simply by saying hello and asking the person to remind her which unit he lives in and whether he needs anything to be done in connection with his unit.
Dealing with unauthorized occupants. Once a staff member discovers an unauthorized occupant, she’ll have to decide what to do with him. Sometimes the situation can be resolved by adding that occupant to the resident’s lease. Other times the staff member may have to oust the unauthorized occupant by evicting the resident with whom he has been living.
There’s always a chance that the unauthorized occupant is someone who hasn’t violated any of your house rules or lease requirements, is qualified to live at your site, and won’t upset your occupancy standards. So tell staff that in such a case, they can screen the person as if he were a rental prospect and, if the person is approved, process the income certification and have him sign the lease and become a legal resident. These types of situations can arise when a resident invites a partner to live with a him.
Upon discovery of an authorized occupant, instruct your staff to issue a notice requesting compliance with site rules. By doing so, you’re putting your residents on notice that you enforce your house rules—including your rules on occupancy, says McGoey. Plus, having notices in a resident’s file will help you later if you need to prove that you have grounds to evict the resident for housing unauthorized occupants.
Also, it’s important to document everything that takes place. Instruct your staff to document everything in connection with an unauthorized occupant, including complaints from other residents, observations from maintenance staff, and any conversations or encounters they have with the unauthorized occupant or resident housing him, says McGoey. This information will help you if you need to go forward with an eviction proceeding, or if you need to get the police involved.
If the unauthorized occupant won’t begin the process of being added to the household and won’t move out, you should consider eviction proceedings. Your lease should make harboring an unauthorized occupant grounds for eviction.
Chris E. McGoey: President, McGoey Security Consulting; www.crimedoctor.com.
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