Housing Inspections: The Brilliance of a No-Surprises Strategy

I once had a boss who told me it was my job to make sure he was never surprised. I thought that was odd, but over time I realized it was brilliant… because nobody likes a bad surprise.


When it comes to student housing inspections, it’s likely that nothing would surprise your team. But your inspection team is probably not your major concern. It’s your student residents—and their parents— that should not be surprised.


Housing inspections are animosity-building opportunities. It’s human nature; nobody likes to be “inspected.” Just the idea puts student residents on the defensive. And if poorly executed, students end up feeling that their privacy has been violated… and parents end up surprised by an unwelcome fine.


Communications are the key to taking the edge off the inspection process. Here are five tips to help you turn a relationship strain into an organizational gain.



  1. Use a reliable means to notify. Inspections should not be a surprise. Most states, municipalities and universities require that you give advance notice. But that doesn’t mean that students will actually receive advance notice. Posting paper notices doesn’t work. Some may actually get read, but they’re often removed before everyone gets the message. (Does anyone ever pass that information on to their parents?) Dates and times are easily forgotten. And it can take a lot of time to make the rounds manually posting notices.

    Use the communication method your residents and their parents prefer: voice and text messages to cell phones, email addresses and social media sites. Everyone gets and reads text messages. Plus, they conveniently provide a written record for later reference. A message notification service makes it fast and easy to notify all your contacts with one simple message. Use it to send an initial announcement and then send a reminder notice, too. Some services provide automated translations and documentation that shows your messages were received.

  2. Set expectations. It’s a fact, people aren’t happy when their expectations are not met. Compile and publish a list of items that are not permitted (e.g. candles; flammable substances; items hanging from sprinkler heads, overloaded extension cords; blocked exit maps; items left in hallways and stairwells; etc.) Make your rules short and simple. You want them to be read. If possible, make your inspection list available.

  3. Tell them why. Publish a statement that explains the rationale for inspections: legal, safety, quality of life, resource management, etc. Make it short and easy to read and understand. Include a list of frequently asked questions and answers. For example:



    • When do inspections happen?

    • How do they work?

    • How will I be notified?

    • Will you come into my unit if I’m not there?

    • What happens if you find a violation?

4.  Eliminate the "them versus us" factor. Students are heavily engaged with social media building online communities. Make safety and resource management a community-wide effort within their residential community. Or launch a   team initiative with teams by building or floor striving for the highest score. Using technology, such as a message notification service positions you as part of the community. And it also supports a “green” community initiative by eliminating paper mailings and flyers.


5.  Consider incentivizing a perfect inspection. Free stuff is good and it doesn’t have to drain your budget. Free pizza, gas cards, iTunes. Who doesn’t love an immediate, tangible reward? If volume is a concern, consider a drawing for five, ten, twenty winners.


You and your staff work hard all year to make your property a safe and desirable place to live. Attracting and keeping student residents takes an ongoing commitment, lots of time and lots of effort. It’s about more than just your property. It’s also about building relationships. Don’t let inspections threaten your hard-earned relationships. Use a proactive communication plan to position them as a legal and practical necessity that promotes a safe and healthy quality of life.