Neighborhood Watch Change In Procedures / Here's an Idea
By Tony Vellucci
Moving out of KPW soon? This could be important to you. About two weeks ago, I received a call from Bridget Merz (Fairfax County Zoning Enforcement) who advised that she had received several calls from neighbors of vacant homes in KPW asking whether Neighborhood Watch patrols could go onto the properties to check them out. NW patrols routinely walk around vacant homes to ensure the properties have not been vandalized, and to ensure that they are not being used for illegal activities. Their efforts to date have been very successful, however Ms. Merz said that unless the NW patrols had the permission of the owner - or an agent acting on the owner's behalf (real estate agent) – both the civic association - since it sponsors NW - and the individual could be subject to civil / trespassing violations collectively and individually if an owner/agent chose to follow that path. Master Police Officer J.T. Frey, Crime Prevention Section, West Springfield District noted that “technically, parties are "trespassing" on private property when they go beyond the 'public’ observation sites from which one can see the property.”
Having NW patrols check on vacant homes to ensure they are not being used for illegal activities is a win-win for both the property owner and the community. To date, when the NW Coordinator Rick Huska has contacted owners and agents, they have been very receptive to NW patrols checking out back and side entrances - those not necessarily visible from the street. MPO Frey noted that NW training includes taking a look at the vacant / foreclosed homes in a community and that most would welcome the extra set of eyes on their property.
Consequently, since checking out vacant homes is an accepted NW best practice, but since we are technically trespassing without having permission from the owner to do so, NW has adopted a standing policy with respect to vacant properties that no NW patrols will check out any more than what can be observed from a public vantage point, unless KPWCA/NW has written permission from an owner/agent. Unfortunately, this is an additional administrative burden – for both the property owner and NW - but is important to legally protect both the civic association and the individual NW member.
In this way, neighbors who see NW patrols checking on the side and back entrances of vacant homes will know that NW has received the owner’s permission to be on the property, and do so.