National REIA: Terrorism Awareness

An update on terrorism awareness for property owners, managers and staff.

from Charles Tassel with National REIA

Who Did I Rent To. . . ?

This is a phrase you never want to hear coming from yourself! However, if you have been in the business very long, the thought has probably crossed your mind. As property owners and managers, the thought that the terrorists on the three different fights on 9/11 rent- ed from someone, sends a chill down our spine. Add to that the chill of balancing the tension of the threat of a federal discrimination lawsuit if decisions are based on color, race, religion, or national origin. As screening agents, we often want to act like the proverbial ostrich with our head in the sand.

As good stewards of our properties and as citizens of our country, we can still address concerns without dis- crimination. Attention needs to be focused on actions and behaviors rather than the 7 pillars of the protected classes. Consistent application of screening, leasing, and rules is essential to professional management. One of the valuable steps is to be sure to keep records of applicants – with photo IDs. Just verifying IDs can help eliminate problems upfront. Operationally, a wary eye during these times is also a best management practice.

There are several key behaviors that are indicators of potential problems. These indicators, like red fags, warn us of potential problems. Additionally, each of us has a built-in detection system we commonly refer to as intuition, or gut feeling. Those who work with the public long enough, and who train themselves to avoid the “7 deadly sins” of discrimination, can be effective in seeing the signs of trouble. While no one indicator may be the clincher, a combination, or the means by which you are made aware of the indicators, may be a sign that more expertise should be brought to bear on the situation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security would rath- er hear from you before an event arises, than as part of a follow up incidence report.

Just a word about contacting the FBI and DHS: suc- cinct, accurate, and timely information is the most ef- fective. Whether you choose to call their 800 numbers or email a concern via their websites, please know that they are responding to the information. You may never hear from them – but that silence doesn’t mean nothing happened. Neither department will typically comment on an ongoing investigation, with good reason: they don’t want to tip off the potential criminal. On the other hand, please do not be alarmed if investigators arrive at your doorstep seeking additional information. Pend- ing your review of the badges or IDs, please work with them in a calm, discrete, professional manner. Again, asking about their investigation, unlike TV, will not re- sult in a plot discussion.

Unlike dealing with the local drug dealer, whose thug- gery was probably learned on the streets and in local penitentiaries, the slightly more sophisticated criminal or terrorist, foreign or domestic, most likely will have had some training, including training that suggests minimizing suspicion.

There are two key types of situations that your rent- al unit may be used for: a staging area or as material support. When a rental property or unit is used for a staging area, it is likely occupied by numerous non-re- lated individuals, coming and going at odd hours. Typ- ically most normal human interactions are avoided. While avoided eye contact can seem to be a concern, please remember that for some cultures eye contact is considered a form of confict, and is avoided out of courtesy, thus avoided eye contact in conjunction with other behaviors, may be more evidence for concern. Additionally there may be demands for longer notice before being allowed in the rental with some rooms still kept “off limits”. Both threatening and nervous body language should be a red fag during routine mainte- nance inspections and repairs.

How the rent is paid can also raise questions. Rent being paid without obvious signs of employment, or heavy reliance on cash can be concerns. Additional- ly, checks from odd sources, or credit card payments from names other than those on the lease might be a concern, especially if during the application process different expectations were set, such as a job.

Aside from the odd personal interactions, a staging area may have normal items, but ones that seem out of place, for example, agriculture products like fertilizer in an apartment, propane tanks, toxic chemicals, or a number of electronic parts or phones in various stages of disassembly. This may also be why tables are cov- ered – with items obviously obscured from sight. Con- sider if things you see are in places that don’t make sense. Does it seem suspicious?

The material support facet is a different kind of prob- lem. The lack of people around, the storage of boxes – marked or unmarked, and the access at odd hours may give rise to appropriate suspicions. An emergen- cy maintenance repair may stumble on something odd. For instance, moving boxes are normal. Four months into a lease, if there is no furniture, no clothes, and still a variety of boxes, that’s suspicious. Again, there may be a collection of normal items, but not ones that nor- mally go together, such as duct tape and electronics, fuel cans, and maps. Even a variety of employment rejection letters, especially with different names for the address, can be a sign of a problem.

Surveillance equipment should also be a red fag. We are not considering the resident with the weekend wed- ding photography gigs, or the bird and fower afciona- dos. Covert photography and wireless micro-cameras may be appropriate for the Private Investigator, but law enforcement may interested in who else is using such equipment. This includes sonic magnifers, also known as listening devices.

Another odd sign for either type of location will be strange amounts and types of trash. Whether it is a single family home or a multi-family building – most residential trash is pretty common and consistent. Similar to signs of drug use, odd smelling fuids and chemicals or unusual amounts of more commercial types of products can be a cause for alertness. Pack- aging with varying names to the same address, within a similar time frame can also raise suspicion, as should uniforms being delivered for those not in that line of work.

While a property manager or maintenance worker may see an occasional strange thing, please do not forget the neighbors. While some neighbors love to complain, they just might be on to something. Especially when they say, “it was odd…” or “such and such seemed out of place.” Their statement may resonate with other concerns, in which case, it may be time to take action.

In any situation where you have concerns, it is best to contact law enforcement agencies. Do not confront suspicious characters on your own. For your own per- sonal safety and the safety of other residents, reach out immediately. As the Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, points out –

Preventing terrorism is a community effort.  By learning what to look for, you can make a positive contribution in the fight against terrorism.  The partnership between the comunity and law enforcement is essential to the success of anti-terrorism efforts.  Some of the activities, taken individually, could be innocent and must be examined by law enforcement professionals in a larger context to determine wheter there is a basis to investigate.

As members of the rental and multi-family industry, it is incumbent on each of us to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.  With recent pushes to drive mroe domestic terrorism, espcially in the U.S. our wary eye may be the difference in preventing the next major incident.


Reporting Options

Concerns can be reported through several different venues:

  • Visit an FBI office in person
  • Fill out an online tip form at
  • Utilize other tip sites, such as
  • Or call 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324)  Calls are routed to the appropriate office or departmetn.

If you would like to establish an ongoing relationship with the FBI for national Security concerns, please contact your local FBI office and speak to a representative from the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Written by:
Charles Tassell
National Real Estate Investors Association
7265 Kenwood Road, #368
Cincinnati, OH 45236