New Guide to Compliance with Florida Statute 768.0706 (HB 837)

New Guide to Compliance with Florida Statute 768.0706 (HB 837)

In May 2024, CIS published a comprehensive online guide to assist property owners in developing an informed strategy for compliance with Florida Statute 768.0706.

The new guide presents a complete roadmap to compliance beginning with cost-benefit analysis and initial considerations, conducting a preliminary compliance assessment, CPTED assessment, implementation and documentation of improvements, “proper crime deterrence and safety training” for employees, and maintaining ongoing compliance moving forward.

The new guide also explores a number of ambiguities in the statute, strategies for demonstrating “substantial compliance” as required by the law, and approaches for reinforcing defensibility against future court challenge.

Click here to view the web version guide.

Click here to download the PDF version.

CIS: Elevating HB 837 Compliance and Reporting Standards in Florida

CIS: Elevating HB 837 Compliance and Reporting Standards in Florida

TAMPA, Fla., March 12, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — In a landscape where safety and compliance are more critical than ever, Critical Intervention Services (CIS) stands out not only as a leader but also as the largest HB 837 compliance consulting firm in Florida. With a steadfast commitment to mitigating risk, CIS delivers on this promise through a blend of unmatched expertise, a comprehensive approach to security and legal compliance, and a dedication to excellence that spans over three decades. Specializing in multi-family housing security, CIS has made its mark by working in thousands of communities, offering unparalleled protection and strategic advantages to property owners and operators throughout the state.

The enactment of Florida House Bill 837 (HB 837) in March 2023 has introduced new benchmarks for apartment and multifamily property owners, mandating stringent crime prevention measures. CIS leverages its unparalleled expertise and the largest team of specialized consultants in the state to ensure that compliance extends beyond mere adherence to standards. “We solidify our clients’ liability protections by meticulously preparing their certifications to meet HB 837 requirements,” emphasizes the service’s anticipatory nature, designed to meet and surpass the needs and challenges of compliance and legal defense.

“Our philosophy, ‘Discover the Critical Difference,’ is woven into every aspect of our work,” said KC Poulin, CEO & President of CIS. “This means not just achieving compliance but crafting a strategic shield that protects properties against both crime and future legal challenges. Our extensive experience and proactive approach ensure our clients’ peace of mind, knowing they’re fortified against potential risks.” CIS’s strategic foresight in preparing reports and certifications, designed to withstand legal scrutiny, sets a new industry standard. This attention to detail and preparation underscores the critical difference CIS brings to its clients, offering an unmatched level of protection and assurance.

For property owners and operators seeking to navigate the complexities of HB 837 with confidence, CIS’s proven track record and the promise of discovering the critical difference make it the go-to consulting firm in Florida. Detailed information on how Critical Intervention Services can support your community in leveraging HB 837 for enhanced safety and legal protection is available on our resource page: CIS HB 837 Assessment and Crime Prevention.

About Critical Intervention Services (CIS)

For over 30 years, Critical Intervention Services (CIS) has been at the forefront of security and safety consulting for multi-family housing environments. As the largest HB 837 compliance consulting firm in Florida, CIS boasts an unparalleled team of specialized consultants, offering in-depth solutions for property owners and operators aiming to enhance their safety and legal protection.

What to expect from an HB 837 CPTED Assessment?

What to expect from an HB 837 CPTED Assessment?

Since HB 837 was signed into law in March 2023, many apartment owners and property management companies throughout the State of Florida have awakened to the powerful liability protections provided by the new statutes. Just in the past month, our firm has spoken with a half dozen companies eager to get started as soon as possible.

While many seem to have a sense of where they stand regarding most measures described in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a), few arrive with an understanding of what is encompassed during a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment and the types of issues they may be expected to address while improving their properties for compliance.

The following article is written to provide an understanding of the assessment process, common CPTED guidelines that will likely influence the observations of the Florida CPTED Practitioner, and some specific nuances regarding HB 837 that should be considered when initiating assessments.

Verification of F.S. 768.0706(2)(a) Compliance versus CPTED Assessment

As a preliminary point, there is a difference between compliance with F.S. 768.0706(2)(a) and compliance with common guidelines in CPTED. Some property owners we’ve spoken with believed that if they were compliant with the seven defined measures in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a) (e.g., 1-inch deadbolt throws, peepholes, pool access, etc.), they would naturally be compliant with CPTED guidelines as well. That’s a false assumption.  

With the exception of lighting, there are few measures in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a) that directly correspond with CPTED practices. And even on the subject of lighting, there are important differences that property owners should be aware of.

When approaching a Florida CPTED Practitioner (FCP) for an assessment, it’s important to clarify the scope as related to the measures defined in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a). The statute only states: “By January 1, 2025, the owner or principal operator of a multifamily residential property has a crime prevention through environmental design assessment that is no more than 3 years old completed for the property.” It does not state that the documented CPTED assessment must also encompass the seven measures stated in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a).

However, most clients we have spoken with want both—a CPTED assessment that meets the requirements of F.S. 768.0706(2)(b) and a written document verifying their compliance with the measures in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a). From a practical perspective as a scope of work, verifying compliance with F.S. 768.0706(2)(a) as an additional activity is largely a matter of some extra work time. However, there is one topic where the difference is important.

During CPTED assessments, illumination in parking lots is normally measured at surface level and 5-feet vertical from surface in accordance with guidelines by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). However, to verify compliance with HB 837, illumination in parking lots needs to be measured at 18-inches from ground. Although this may sound like a minor technical matter, the cost of work time for measuring and documenting illumination levels at both heights would result in double the normal price for a parking lot lighting assessment. As a result, if HB 837 verification is part of the scope, most Florida CPTED Practitioners will choose to approach the parking lot lighting assessment using the HB 837 requirement rather than standard IES guidelines.

The HB 837 CPTED Assessment Process

Following is a description of how a typical CPTED assessment of a multifamily property would be conducted, including in this example verification of HB 837 compliance.

As a preceding matter, the Florida CPTED Practitioner should retrieve a crime report for the property and surrounding area to identify any unique conditions warranting special consideration during the on-site assessment. In alignment with practices promoted by the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute (FCPTI), the crime analysis should encompass current statistics in addition to a 5-year historical trends analysis.

The on-site assessment typically commences with a meeting with the property manager to review background information about the property and identify any unique concerns. After the manager interview, the CCTV system is evaluated for compliance with requirements defined in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a)(1). Although we normally prefer to evaluate CCTV under nighttime conditions during our comprehensive property inspections, daytime CCTV assessment is more convenient for property managers if the main objective is to only verify compliance with HB 837’s coverage requirements.

Afterward, a physical inspection of the property is conducted to evaluate CPTED conditions and compliance with requirements defined in F.S. 768.0706(2)(a). Some of these compliance verification activities should include inspection of the pool area and residential units for conditions as required under F.S. 768.0706(2)(a).

A major focus of CPTED surveys in multifamily properties is landscaping design and its influence on “natural surveillance”—ensuring unobstructed sightlines throughout the property to reduce offender concealment opportunities and facilitate observation of criminal activity. For this purpose, FCPTI promotes the ‘2ft-6ft rule’ whereby all hedges and bushes should be no taller than 24” in height and tree limbs should be no lower than 72” from the ground. As a property owner, expect that any shrubbery and trees that deviate from this guide will appear in the report.

The Illuminating Engineering Society also promotes a similar guideline (3ft-7ft rule), but most Florida CPTED Practitioners use the 2ft-6ft rule when doing assessments to ensure best conformity with guidelines promoted by the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute (FCPTI).

In addition to the 2ft-6ft rule, CPTED guidelines promoted by FCPTI also include the 30-ft sightline rule. Under the 30-ft sightline rule, there should be 30 feet of unobstructed sightlines along the sides of all sidewalks and walking paths.

In addition to maintaining clear sightlines, all trees located near light poles should be trimmed in a manner that luminaires are unobstructed and branches don’t cast shadows below.

HB 837 CPTED assessment - Landscaping Issues

Following are some examples of trees and shrubs that would be documented unfavorably in a CPTED assessment report.

In addition to landscaping issues, the property features and buildings are examined for possible offender concealment opportunities with special focus on common areas and pedestrian walkways. Below are some examples of offender concealment opportunities that would likely be documented in a CPTED assessment report.

Other issues encompassed during daytime assessments often include signage and “wayfinding measures, territorial definition, natural access control, and property maintenance.

After dusk, the assessment continues with a lighting assessment. If HB 837 verification is part of the scope, the Florida CPTED Practitioner will likely approach the parking lot independently by measuring illumination levels metered at 18-inches from ground surface (as required for establishing compliance with F.S. 768.0706(2)(a)(2)). Some CPTED practitioners grid parking lots for assessment. Others, such as CIS, prefer to meter each parking space independently when establishing an average illumination level for the highest degree of comprehensiveness and accuracy.

After the parking lot lighting survey is complete, the lighting assessment continues with focus on sidewalks, building entrances, mailboxes, and outdoor activity areas. In following with FCPTI guidelines, illumination levels in these areas are metered according to criteria established by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and recorded. If HB 837 compliance is part of the scope, the Florida CPTED Practitioner would also be verifying the presence of lighting in walkways, laundry rooms, common areas, and “porches” as required by F.S. 768.0706(2)(a)(3).

When the final report is delivered, a lighting map should be included identifying illumination levels in locations throughout the property and additional observations regarding contrast ratio, glare, light trespass, and maintenance issues such as degraded and burned out lights.

Legal Defensibility, HB 837, and Assessment Reports

Although HB 837 provides robust protection to property owners against frivolous lawsuits resulting from criminal activity, it is naturally expected that plaintiff attorneys will attempt to undermine HB 837’s liability shield by claiming that the defendant’s properties are non-compliant with requirements of the statutes. And one possible angle for establishing the appearance of non-compliance is discrediting the CPTED assessment performed by the Florida CPTED Practitioner and methods used for verifying and documenting compliance during the inspection.

As a starting point, property owners should ensure that the Florida CPTED Practitioner is conducting the assessment and making observations in close alignment with guidelines and practices promoted by the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute (FCPTI). Although FCPTI is not directed under the statute to establish standards for assessments, the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute (FCPTI) is directly referenced twice in the statute and will naturally be cited as an authority for standard of care by experts in legal proceedings.

When selecting a Florida CPTED Practitioner as a consultant, it is highly recommended that property owners view an example of the consultant’s written work product to examine the practitioner’s attention to defensibility in court. Following are some questions to consider when evaluating prospective consultants and examining their CPTED reports:

    • Does the Florida CPTED Practitioner have experience with premises liability cases? Better yet, do they have courtroom experience as an expert witness? Assume that the practitioner’s CPTED report will be challenged and if so, it’s very likely the consultant will be called to testify.
    • Is the light meter used by the consultant calibrated and NIST-certified for accuracy? If not, this opens an opportunity for discredit by an opposing Plaintiff’s expert.
    • Is the report accompanied by appendixes or footnotes defining the CPTED standards and authoritative sources as basis for his/her observations?
    • How does the Florida CPTED Practitioner address property features that cannot be changed without major redesign of the site or reconstruction of buildings? Be aware that some measures encompassed under CPTED doctrine relate to the original property design and cannot be reasonably addressed without very major expense. However, omitting the presence of these types of conditions in a CPTED report provides an angle of opportunity for an opposing expert seeking to discredit the assessment (i.e., “Respectfully, the assessment is incomplete, counselor.”). How does the consultant address this type of situation in their reports to ensure comprehensiveness while also managing foreseeability?
    • What is the “quality” of the report documentation? Although they say “Justice is blind,” appearance does matter in the eyes of judges and juries. How well written is the report regarding format & organization, clarity, articulation with attention to potential court interpretation, grammar, and aesthetic design?

Florida House Bill 837 (HB 837) and Apartment and Multifamily Properties: Walk, Don’t Run

HB 837 Multifamily Properties

Florida House Bill 837 (HB 837) and Apartment and Multifamily Properties: Walk, Don’t Run

Florida House Bill 837 (HB 837) aims to reduce liability risks for apartment and multifamily housing property owners who implement specific crime prevention measures based on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles and have a documented CPTED assessment. To comply with Florida House Bill 837 and reduce your security and crime-related liability risks, ensure your properties meet the following physical property requirements:

    • Install security camera systems at points of entry and exit, with footage maintained for at least 30 days.
    •  Ensure the parking lot is well-lit with an average intensity of at least 1.8 foot-candles per square foot at 18 inches above the surface, from dusk until dawn or controlled by photocell or similar technology.
    • Provide adequate lighting in walkways, laundry rooms, common areas, and porches, with illumination from dusk until dawn or controlled by photocell or similar technology.
    • Install at least a 1-inch deadbolt in each dwelling unit door.
    • Provide locking devices on all windows, exterior sliding doors, and any other doors not used for community purposes.
    • Install locked gates with key or fob access along pool fence areas.
    • Place a peephole or door viewer on each dwelling unit door without a window or without a window next to the door.

In addition to these physical measures, property owners must comply with the following procedural requirements:

    • Obtain a CPTED assessment completed and documented by a law enforcement agency or a Florida Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Practitioner (FCP) no more than three years old. F.S. 768.0706(2)(b) further requires that property owners remain in mostly in “substantial compliance” with the assessment.
    • Provide proper crime deterrence and safety training to current employees by January 1, 2025. After this date, offer such training to all employees within 60 days of hiring.

Implementing these measures allows you to take advantage of the presumption against liability outlined in F.S. 768.0706(2) and reduce the risk of being held responsible for criminal acts committed by third parties on your property. Always stay informed about any updates or amendments to the bill, and consider consulting a legal professional from CIS to ensure full compliance.

It is highly recommended to conduct a preliminary assessment before the actual CPTED survey. This assessment helps property managers and owners determine the extent of work needed to achieve compliance and establish whether it is realistically possible to become compliant. Beyond the itemized conditions specified in HB 837, Florida Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design assessments encompass a much broader range of issues (e.g., landscaping design and maintenance, illumination in areas other than parking lots, etc.) and property owners will be expected to be in compliance with far more conditions than suggested by the list in F.S. 768.0706(2). Engaging in a documented CPTED assessment without knowing the costs and implications of compliance could lead to increased liabilities and vulnerability to plaintiff attorney complaints if the property fails to meet the required standards.

To minimize potential liability risks, consider the following steps before engaging in a full CPTED assessment:

    1. Perform a preliminary assessment with a qualified security professional: Review the requirements of HB 837 and evaluate your property’s current security measures against the criteria specified in F.S. 768.0706(2) and common CPTED standards. This will help identify areas that need improvement.
    2. Consult with a professional: Seek advice from a property management consultant, security expert, or legal professional to discuss your preliminary findings and understand the potential consequences of non-compliance.
    3. Develop a plan: Based on the self-assessment and expert advice, create a plan outlining the steps, resources, and timeline needed to bring your property into compliance.
    4. Communicate with stakeholders: Inform your team, residents, and other relevant parties about the planned improvements and their potential impact on property operations and safety.
    5. Monitor progress: Regularly review the implementation of the plan to ensure that improvements are made according to the established timeline, and adjust the plan as needed.

By taking these steps, you can minimize potential liability risks and be better prepared for a formal CPTED assessment. Keep in mind that achieving compliance is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring and improvement. Stay informed about any updates or amendments to HB 837 and collaborate with experts and local authorities to maintain a safe and secure environment for your residents.