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Simple Strategies to Minimize Your Legal Risk

With all of the fun and exciting tasks to manage in student housing such as turn-season, social media, university relations and more, it’s probably a little too easy to forget about some of the less exciting tasks. 

The breakout session “Minimizing Liability Risks: Simple and Effective Strategies That Create a Safer Community and Protect an Owner in a Lawsuit” at the 2014 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition sought to remind owners and managers to do the work that will keep their potential liability low.

“There are a lot of things you can do to minimize risk that are easy and don’t take a lot of time,” said Jeremy Burr, Vice President of Multifamily Assets at Insurance Office of America. 

Burr led the session on minimizing risk and offered these tips to help create a safer community and protect against possible future lawsuits: 

1. Create an incident report form. 

This should be a standard form that is used across all properties within a portfolio or company.  A standard incident report should include the circumstances of the incident, the date, time and location of the incident, injuries or medical problems associated with it and any photos or videos if applicable.  

2. Hold regular maintenance checks at every community. 

“Maintenance staff and property managers should be taking at least monthly, if not bi-weekly maintenance walks through the property,” Burr said. Staff should be on the look-out for issues such as dips in the ground, uneven flooring, cracks in the sidewalk, loose handrails and ripped carpet. 

According to the National Floor Safety Institute, slips and falls are the top reason for emergency room visits, which also makes them also the top risk for student housing providers. 

“As far as frequency goes, slips and falls are the big, big risk issue,” said Burr. “In terms of severity and huge payouts, the real issue is assault and battery. If there’s a fist fight, or an intruder, a resident could claim against inadequate security.”

Burr suggests that maintenance staff and managers include gate checks and light checks on their regular maintenance checks as well. 

3. Document the findings of your regular maintenance checks.  

“Talk about any items of significance you find on your walk-throughs with the property manager. These should be well documented, fixed and discussed as part of an ongoing dialogue between the maintenance team, the property managers and any regional or home office managers,” said Burr. 

4. Train staff to respond appropriately. 

All onsite staff should show compassion if someone comes into report an injury. 

“Be cool and help defuse the situation. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes people are clueless,” Burr said. 

Burr says that following these suggestions are little things that people tend to forget about, especially when staff members are tasked with a wide variety of jobs. But he can’t stress the importance of risk minimization enough. 

“Imagine if you have to go to a judge because someone slipped and got injured on your property. You could be one owner saying, ‘Here’s copies of our bi-weekly maintenance checks and here’s our records showing we discussed and made repairs,” Burr said. “Or you could be the same owner in front of the judge with none of the documentation. Which would you rather be?” 

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All sessions from the 2014 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition are available for purchase. Learn more