Summertime, and the livin' is easy

While George Gershwin (ask your parents who he was) likely didn’t have fraternities or sororities in mind when he penned those lyrics for “Porgy and Bess” in 1935, we all like to think that our summer months will be carefree and untroubled. OmegaFi’s experience, however, has shown us that summertime can often be anything but easy for Greek houses.

What sort of damage is most common for our organizations? Here’s a list of the insurance claims filed by number of occurrences and by dollar amount of damage for one insurance broker’s Greek clients over the last 10 years:

Number of Occurrences Total Claim Dollars Paid
Water Damage – 38% Fire – $30,296,048
Hail/Wind – 27% Water Damage – $5,567,48
Vandalism – 8% Hail/Wind – $4,927,412
Fire – 7% Equipment Failure – $1,437,909
Theft – 4% Sprinkler Loss – $749,183

Source: Willis Insurance

Preventing Losses

Most organizations generally recommend that the chapter home be closed over the summer simply because the costs of keeping it open most often exceed the income received. This is particularly true when renovations or improvements are taking place and not all rooms can be rented.

While there may be little to be done to avoid hail and wind damage, it is entirely possible to prevent serious damage and improve security and safety when the chapter home is closed for the summer. With little-to-no traffic through the house, the home can be particularly vulnerable to theft, vandalism or unintentional damage. Items that would have quickly been caught can remain untreated and grow into much larger issues.

For example, we note above that water damage is the most common claim occurrence. A leaky water hose to a washing machine is a nuisance at most other times of the year, but is not likely to cause major damage when quickly addressed. However, when unattended for days, weeks or more, it can easily cause major damage to walls and ceilings and lead to problems with mold. If your house is closed during the summer and a caretaker doesn’t occupy the property, make arrangements for a member, parent or property management vendor to make consistent visits to catch little issues before they cause significant damage.

Breaks are also good times to conduct maintenance and improvement projects. Consider the following check list as it applies to your situation.

Administrative and General Items

  • Room Check Out – each tenant should be held responsible for the condition of his/her room. As each person moves out, a check list should be used for a thorough inspection of the room. All damages and abnormal maintenance needs should be documented so the tenant’s security deposit can be handled properly and any repairs can be addressed before members return for the next term.
  • Collect Keys – Keys are often handed out throughout the year for various reasons (e.g., storage closets, rooms, kitchen, cabinets, files, main door, etc.). Buying new locks, making duplicate keys and using a locksmith can be costly. It’s best to keep track of those members who receive keys during the year, and those who don’t return their key should be charged appropriately.
  • Announce Summer Projects – Summer is the best time to conduct housing projects. If a project is going to require the assistance of the chapter members, it is best to announce it before they leave for vacation. Announcements should be both verbal and written, so no one can claim that he or she didn’t know about the project(s).
  • Summer House Manager – The chapter or house corporation should appoint a summer manager who will make sure the house is checked, inside and out, on a weekly basis. The House Manager could also be in charge of overseeing all of the summer maintenance needs. If a caretaker is employed who is not a member, the summer house manager could be responsible for keeping the caretaker accountable.
  • Meet With The House Corporation – A year-end meeting between the chapter officers, the house manager, the kitchen steward and the house corporation would be helpful for evaluating the financial situation and any necessary projects for the break.
  • Safety Report – A safety report should be made periodically, and the end of a school term is one of the best times to do so. A written report should be made and given to the house owner or the house corporation with a copy given to the chapter advisor.
  • Mail Delivery – If mail is received at the house, the post office must be notified of a summer forwarding address. If mail is received at a post office box, someone should be assigned to check the box regularly. Forward the name and address of the chapter’s summer correspondent to your Inter/National Headquarters. Officers who work in OmegaFi’s Chapter Desktop should also update their contact information so that their OmegaFi Account Manager can help them address summer billing issues quickly.
  • Fire Department, Police and Alarm Company Notification – Be sure to notify the fire department, the police and your alarm company whether your house will be open or closed, and make sure they know the person to contact in the event of an emergency. If the police and alarm company know your property will be closed, they will watch it more closely.
  • Notify Neighbors – Let the neighbors know whether or not your house will be vacant. If a small number of tenants will occupy the house, it would be good for them to introduce themselves to the neighbors.
  • Garbage Pick-Up – Garbage is usually picked up on a weekly basis. If the chapter pays for this service and the need for it is decreased, some money may be saved by lowering the number of pick-ups, or halting them altogether.
  • Telephone Service – If there’s a public phone in the chapter house, check into the cost saving possibilities if the phone will not be needed during the summer.
  • Exterminating – When the house is vacant, it’s the best time for an extermination company to do a major insect and rodent extermination project.
  • Secure Windows – All windows should be locked. A security bar could be placed in the runner of each ground floor window. For theft prevention and energy conservation, the drapes and blinds should be closed.
  • Security Lights – Exterior security lights with motion sensors help deter trespassers. Automatic timers on a few interior lights also give the appearance that the home is lived-in.
  • Fire Extinguishers, Safety and Alarm Systems – The fire extinguishers and other smoke and fire safety systems should be checked and serviced routinely. It is an especially good time to test all of the safety systems when the building is empty. If the house has a centralized alarm system, alert the alarm company of the vacancy dates.
  • Water Heater & Air Conditioner – Considerable amounts of energy and money can be saved by turning down the hot water heater thermostat(s) and by raising the thermostat on a central air conditioner. Note that – just as you should never turn the heat completely off during the winter break, to avoid frozen pipes – it is not advisable to turn the air conditioner off completely; just set it no higher than 80 degrees to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
  • Check and Service Mechanical Systems – Have a qualified individual check and service the air conditioner, furnace, boiler and water heater.
  • Change Combination Locks – The code to combination locks should be changed periodically. The end of a school term is one of the best times to do so. Even chapter members shouldn’t be unexpectedly and irregularly entering the building during vacation time.
  • Secure Expensive Items – If a specific storage closet is unavailable, one room should be designated for locking up all target items for burglars, such as stereos, TVs, VCRs, speakers, paintings, etc.
  • Protection Against Vandalism– Sometimes people break into a building simply for the sake of destruction. Composites, trophies, and chapter knick-knacks are often the target of such vandalism, and some of these items cannot be replaced. Make sure these types of memorabilia are safely locked up and out of sight.
  • All Appliances Unplugged and Individual Rooms Emptied – It’s best to have individual rooms entirely emptied, which includes the unplugging and removal of all appliances in the chapter house. This makes the building less tempting for burglars, and it clears the rooms for summer maintenance projects such as painting, resurfacing floors, etc. It also makes spotting damages and making the appropriate deductions from security deposits easier, and allows more flexibility in adjusting room assignments.

Bathrooms

  • Check and Service Plumbing Fixtures – The end of the school year is a good time to inspect the plumbing fixtures for leaks and mechanical deficiencies. Water may be turned off to areas of the house that will not need it.
  • Moisture-Tight Surfaces – After a thorough cleaning, it’s good to check the tile and other wall and floor coverings to make sure that water isn’t seeping through to the under structure. If re-grouting the tile is necessary, summer break is a good time to do it.

Exterior and Yard

  • Yard Maintenance – Be sure that arrangements are made so that grass, shrubs and trees are watered and maintained. An unkempt and disorderly yard suggests to predators that the home is unoccupied and may be an easy target. It also presents a negative impression to alumni, parents and potential rushees who may drive by during the summer months.
  • Limit Any Attractive Nuisance – An attractive nuisance is a dangerous condition which has the propensity to lure children. A swimming pool is a good example, and should be drained. Even a “No Trespassing” sign or locked gates are not sufficient protection for the chapter if a child is injured on chapter property.
  • Secure Outdoor Valuables – Lock up those items that could be easily stolen, such as yard tools, patio furniture, etc.
  • Check Water Drainage – Make sure the gutters and downspouts are clear of debris and in working order so that water will run from the roof properly and drain away from the building. Also check to make sure that there are no low spots on the ground where water could collect next to the building.

Kitchen and Dining Facilities

  • Remove Perishable Food – Remove all perishable food from the refrigerator(s) and shelves. Tightly seal any open containers of food that can be stored. The odor of open and spoiling food will attract rodents and insects.
  • Kitchen Cleaning – It is very important that all appliances, equipment, floors, insides of cupboards and refrigerator(s), etc. be thoroughly cleaned. Grease, dried spills, and crumbs will also attract vermin.
  • Service Equipment – All kitchen equipment should be routinely serviced, and a break is an optimum time to do so. Call a qualified service person to inspect the refrigerator(s), cooler, dishwasher, etc.
  • Lock Up Supplies – All kitchen and table service hardware, utensils, cleaning supplies and storable food should be locked away.
  • Limit Kitchen Usage – a high percentage of fires in Greek housing are started in the kitchen. If possible, consider locking the kitchen up for the summer months to reduce the danger of fire.
  • Shut Off Equipment – If the kitchen is not used during the summer months, turn off the gas and water where possible and unplug all unneeded equipment and appliances. Drain the water from any equipment that has a reservoir or waterlines within it.

It can certainly be difficult to give attention to these items with the pressure of final exams and the many duties and responsibilities attendant with the end of the school year, but taking some time to secure the chapter home and prepare it for the summer months, even if it doesn’t quite make the livin’ easy, can make for a cleaner and more organized home for your return in the Fall.

Thanks to our friends at Pi Kappa Alpha Memorial Headquarters for many of the items on this check list. For additional resources, see these sites:

Willis Insurance Summer Break Checklist

MJ Insurance Resource Library

Favor & Co Resource Library

David Carico, CFRE, is Vice President of OmegaFi (www.omegafi.com). OmegaFi helps chapters with the billing and on-time collection of member dues, rents and fees, and provides capital campaign fundraising and alumni relations services to House Corporations and National organizations.

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