On-site management teams can make or break the success of a student housing community. Good property management can be an asset while poor management can erode the community’s reputation and ultimately performance. But according to executives at the 2016 NMHC Student Housing Conference and Exposition, student housing property managers are challenged by new issues at every turn. Here’s what top property management teams are focused on today.
Late deliveries. The late delivery of a new community is the trifecta of problems because the students, their parents and the university are all upset-a situation that can create lasting damage to the property’s reputation and lease ups. For Chris Richards, EVP and COO of EdR, the key to managing through the period until the building is complete and students have moved in is communication and compensation.
“We had a late delivery last year that no one knew about. It didn’t make the news. Because we were prepared,” she said. Prepared in her book means doing things like calling storage units and local vets to board pets, figuring out alternative parking accommodations and issuing routine communications, even if it’s nothing more than to give a progress report on the remaining work to be completed.
More important, be prepared to pay out. “Compensate these students. You have to change their lives. They aren’t doing you a favor moving in a week later. They deserve it. You didn’t do what you promised to do.”
Emotional support animals. Student housing providers have various approaches for dealing with emotional support animals that appear suspiciously like family pets.
“We have a simple test,” said Mitchell Smith, COO of The Scion Group, “If someone comes in and they are requesting an animal for whatever reason, bring us a note from your attending physician. That’s going to be good enough for us. I mean, we can’t have a pet therapy donkey or turkey-there are limits to that-but if the physician says yes, we’re a yes.”
For Richards, it was simpler than that. Most students ended up coming with a prescription for a dog because the company had a no-pet policy. So she changed it. “We just accept pets,” Richards said. “And we get money for it. We went pet friendly across the board.”
Changing regulations. While changes to overtime and compensation rules are currently a struggle to stay up to date on, operations executives said the whole regulatory environment was difficult to monitor much less roll out new policies in lock-step with new regulations.
Julie Bonnin, COO of Asset Campus Housing, explained, “It’s a challenge to keep up on all of it. Five years ago, I had a paralegal. Now we have four attorneys just to be sure we are staying abreast of the changes. It’s a challenge.”
High-level disasters. Whether it’s the 100-year flood or an active shooter on campus situation, student housing providers have to be extremely prepared for whatever crisis comes their way. Executives recommend putting an emergency response plan, practicing it and doing a whole-sale review of the whole program every few years.
“After Virginia Tech [shootings], everyone put an emergency notification system in place,” said Richards. “But what’s the message say in 150 characters or less? Write your copy now. Study it and have it off to the side, so when you do have to send it out, it’s ready.”