Both Sides of the Fence: The Pros and Cons of Gated Communities and Property Fencing
It's a common question among renters and homeowners around the nation: Are communities and properties with surrounding fences and secured gates safer? While the number of gated communities within the United States has significantly increased over the last couple of decades, whether or not they are safer than properties without fencing continues to be debated. However, residents agree that there are a few proven advantages and disadvantages to living within a gated community.
Gated Community Statistics Across the United States
Because the majority of gated communities are privately owned, it is difficult to obtain an accurate count on how many exist within the U.S. However, the data in the American Housing Survey for the United States (AHSUS), which is conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Census Bureau, provides what many consider the closest estimate. Their survey includes an assessment of the number of "secured communities" within the United States, which is defined as follows:
"Secured communities. These types of communities are typically residential communities in which public access by nonresidents is restricted, usually by physical boundaries, such as gates, walls, and fences, or through private security. These communities sometimes require a special entry system, such as entry codes, key cards, or security guard approval . . . ."
According to the data in the 2009 AHSUS, an estimated 11% of today's residential communities are gated or secured communities. Out of those secured communities, approximately 57% include a special entry system.
In terms of the residential units enclosed within these gated or secured communities, 49.6% are occupied by renters, and 50.4% are owner-occupied. Out of the total number of people who live within gated communities, an estimated 22% are aged 65 and older.
While the distribution between gated communities among renters and homeowners appears to be equally divided, there is a significant difference between their prevalence among the four U.S. Regions. Secured or gated communities appear to be most popular in the West and South, with approximately 40% located in western states and 39% within southern states. The least popular area for gated communities is in the Midwest region, where there are only about 8%. The remaining 13% are located within the Northeast.
One reason for the significant difference in the number of gated communities within the Midwest and Northeast in comparison to the West and South has to do with the population distribution. Style of living and climates are also a factor. Regions that get a lot of snow during the winter tend to have fewer gated communities.
Gated Communities and Security
There is no concrete data that proves or disproves that gated communities or private fencing promises residents a higher level of security or decreased crime rates. Nonetheless, there are strong opinions.
On one side of the fence are those who believe that gated communities and property fencing cut down on crime. The thinking is that because security fencing and gates provide limited access to non-residents, it only makes sense that there will be a limited number of property crimes.
As a 20-year security veteran, I am of the opinion that gated communities not only provide a solid physical barrier, but also act as a psychological deterrent for would-be criminals. However, moving into a neighborhood solely because it is gated is not a wise security decision. As many other security and crime experts will tell you, it's important to do your homework before deciding to buy or rent a place within such a community
In my experience, the integrity of a gated community is only as strong as the integrity of the people that live within it. You should never assume that just because a complex or neighborhood is surrounded by a security fence and gate that only law-abiding people live among the property. Burglars and other criminals can reside within gated communities. Visitors of other residents can also be of concern.
It is for these reasons and others that many people believe that gated communities are no safer than properties without surrounding fences and gates. Some experts feel that by separating apartment complexes and entire neighborhoods with fences, it prevents the community from coming together as a whole, which is known to deter crime. Fences and gates can also create a false sense of security for the residents that live within them. Feeling as if there is no need to keep an eye out for suspicious people and activity, they lower their guards, making them and their neighbor’s easy targets for burglars and other criminals.
While gated communities are prohibited from claiming that the secured gates and fences around their properties offer a higher level of security and safety, the implication certainly exists. Property owners and managers certainly understand the psychological effects that the words "gated community" have on the general public. It's not uncommon to see residential community ads featuring this particular amenity.
But, as many of my law enforcement and expert security colleagues will tell you, how safe a property is depends a lot on whether residents look out for each other, whether it's a rental or owner-occupied community, and whether the property is professionally managed. For example, when it comes to rental properties, it's important to do a criminal background check on applicants. Weeding out the undesirables contributes to the overall security of the community. Ensuring the access codes of the entry gates are changed from time to time is also important.
Advantages and Disadvantages Gated Communities and Property Fencing
While there is no guarantee that a gated community or property that limits access to non-residents will prevent or reduce property crimes, there are several common advantages to them. They include:
- Reduced traffic. There tends to be a lot less traffic among the streets contained within gated communities. This helps to cut down on the noise level. Residents with children often feel this also provides a safer playing environment for their kids.
- Decreased number of solicitors. Gated communities that are protected by secured entries prevent solicitors entering at will. This discourages solicitors from attempting to visit residents within the neighborhood, significantly decreasing the number that come knocking at your door.
- Stricter community rules and codes. Many gated communities have strict codes of conduct that residents living among the neighborhood must follow. Many residents enjoy living among these types of communities, as it requires everyone to take care of their homes and surrounding property, which can help keep the appearances and value of the community up.
While many people enjoy living among gated communities and properties, life among them isn't without complaint. Some common disadvantages are:
- High prices. Apartments, condominiums, and homes within gated communities often come at a higher price. HOA fees and rental prices are often higher due to the cost of maintaining the private streets, security gates and fencing, and any guards that patrol the community.
- Inconvenience to residents. Living within a gated community with a secured gate can also be an inconvenience to the resident at times. This is especially true if the electronic gate breaks and doesn't open when you need to exit or enter the property. Leaving for and returning from work during the same hours as many of the other residents can require you to wait in a long line of cars.
- Inconvenience to visitors. A gated community with a secured gate can present as an inconvenience to family and friends. Having to check in with a security guard can cause visitors to have to wait, especially during holidays and other days that are busy with visitors. If visitor entry requires being buzzed in by the resident, this can pose as a problem if the intercom system isn't working properly or if the person they are visiting isn't around to answer their call when they arrive.
As a new renter or home buyer, it's important to be smart. When it comes to deciding whether a gated community or property offers the level of security you need, don't rely on ads, words, or the appearances of the property alone. Instead, inquire about the crime statistics of that particular complex and its surrounding neighborhoods and cities. This will help you to decide which side of the fence you want to live on.
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Census Bureau. American Housing Survey for the United States: 2009. Page 25, Table 2-8. http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/h150-09.pdf
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