Philip Becnel and Joe Belfiore published an article, titled “Turning Around Crime-Plagued Properties,” in The Property Professional, a bimonthly magazine published by the National Property Management Association. “For the multi-family owner or manager, resolving a pest infestation is almost a professional rite of passage,” begins the article’s summary. “But when the pests are of the resident-criminal variety—deeply entrenched among your valuable, income-producing units—it is a very different sort of problem that few know how to solve.” The article then gives two case studies describing how a private investigation and some security consulting, informed by very sharp attorneys, helped to turn around two residential properties that theretofore had major crime problems that were causing law-abiding tenants to flee in droves.
The first case study describes an investigation done by Neal Barton, a private investigator at Dinolt Becnel & Wells Investigative Group, who conducted a multi-month investigation at a forty-unit residential building in Washington, D.C. What started as a straightforward surveillance assignment turned into an elaborate game of cat and mouse between Neal and the suspected drug dealers who were controlling the building’s hallways. Through technological savviness, patience, and simply knowing what to look for, Neal was ultimately able to obtain video evidence of suspected drug deals occurring in the alley behind the building. This evidence was then shared with the police, resulting in a raid on the building. Faced with a drug nuisance complaint, the problem tenants had little choice but to move out voluntarily, allowing the owners of the building to reclaim stewardship of their property.
The second case study describes a much larger case handled by Joe before he joined our firm. In this case—which involved an 800-unit apartment complex purchased by a national real estate firm and located in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C.—a private investigator hired before Joe was run off by shotgun-weilding thugs. The private investigator, perhaps understandably, resigned from his job. Once Joe assessed the situation, his first move was to set a perimeter around the building and require everyone coming and going to provide identification. He and his team then began documenting all suspicious activity, and they soon came to understand who was visiting whom. The article continues, “They identified and barred the fence jumpers. They organized all collected information and related it to the primary unit of interest: the apartment unit.” This allowed the real estate firm’s attorneys to more easily build cases for eviction against the tenants who were causing the problems. Within six months they had cleared out nine problem units, and the property underwent a dramatic turnaround which made the investors more money than they had hoped for. “Three years after purchase, the asset sold for $37 million dollars, an increase of $12 million over the client’s target sale price.”
The two situations featured in these case studies had markedly different solutions, but in both cases the owners ultimately wanted to reclaim stewardship over their investments. What Neal’s and Joe’s solutions had in common was that they both tackled their unique problems with a game plan, which was informed by legal knowhow, and they wisely used the information they gathered to their best advantage. The article presents two excellent examples of how sometimes “just” an investigation isn’t enough. Some cases require brains and teamwork well beyond the capacity of most private investigative firms.