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Guarding Your Garage

"A lot of co-op buildings tend to take garages somewhat for granted in terms of security,” claims a managing agent. “They’ll have electronic door openers and that’s it. People can open the garage and forget to close it. And if you have an automatic closing device, in the time between opening and closing, three different cars can sometimes drive in and no one would notice.”

Indeed: there have been garage break-ins at a Queens co-op’s garage because of tenant negligence, and a break-in at a Manhattan co-op because “a tenant entered late at night and forgot to close the door.”

“Garage security is a big issue,” notes an agent. “If a criminal gains access, he can take his time to break into the car. And with 10, 15, 20, or more cars in one location, he can take his time without worrying about being seen.” And more is at stake than car theft. If you don’t install security measures, you can have, in one agent’s words, “potential liability suits if people think the board was negligent, especially if a break-in results in personal injury.”

Aside from warning tenants to avoid negligence, boards can take a number of practical steps to protect their garages:

Reduce the time it takes for electronic doors to close. A manager suggests placing a sensor on the door so that it only allows two sets of wheels in on each opening. “You should make the time frame from when the door opens to when it closes as short as possible.”

Use sophisticated door opening devices. Many buildings are employing systems that utilize a credit card-type opener on the garage. The card is put in the slot, and the name is retained in the system’s memory. If there is a problem, someone can pull up the information and say this was the card used when there was a break-in.

Such devices can be costly, but they can be worth the money: one agent points to one such incident. Apparently a tenant returned home late one night, inadvertently left the garage open, through which burglars subsequently gained entrance. By tracking the tenant’s card, the co-op at least knew who had let them in. The criminals weren’t caught, but the tenant was chastised. More importantly, the board upgraded the door-closing mechanism so that it would automatically close.

Have tenants keep door openers with them on key chains, not in their cars. If a criminal gets in he can break into a car. And if he finds an automatic door-opener in the glove compartment, he can use it to leave with your vehicle. Better to have a door opener you can carry with you or a card-coded opener you keep in your wallet.

Install mirrors. “You should have mirrors hanging from the ceiling, curved mirrors, so there are no blind spots as you pull into the garage,” advises a manager with Argo, a management firm.

Paint the space bright colors. Be certain access to the building from the garage is not easy (and vice versa). “You have to restrict entry to the garage with special keys or cards,” a manager notes. “You don’t want a burglar to gain access to the lobby, or if he gets into the lobby you don’t want him to be able to get into the garage.”

Install an alarm. This can be a good deterrent. “If you try to force entry, an alarm goes off, and a red light starts flashing,” says the Argo manager. “We’ve installed those in a few of our buildings. It scares the burglars off.”

Set up a panic button. This is only a good idea if you have someone to monitor and/or respond to it. If you do not have a doorman, it will not work.

Install rotating cameras. Such a system is expensive but helpful – if you have a 24-hour doorman at the station monitoring it. The cameras should be recessed, inaccessible, and hooked up to a video recording system. But be warned: criminals wearing masks can easily stymie cameras.

Have a solid lock on the door. The Argo manager reports that many of his buildings use the Magna-Lock locking device, which he claims prevents people from prying the garage door open. The mechanical parts are housed in a tamperproof box.

Most agents say tenants should provide some security, as well. “Even if you have an alarm system on the garage doors and high-security locks, people should still install car alarm systems, cut-off switches, and perhaps a club on the steering wheel,” notes the Argo manager. “And perhaps late at night, women should not go unaccompanied into the garage, if possible. Be security conscious.”

Beyond these measures, agents suggest having the police come – as they will on request – and conduct a security inspection. They will then offer suggestions and advice to tenants. Such a meeting is helpful because it reinforces the primary rule of security: a system is only as good as its users.

This story originally appeared in the April 1994 issue of Habitat.

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