The student housing industry faces a unique challenge among residential businesses: end-of-year turnover. Millions of young people across the United States move out of student housing at the same time, and within a few days, a whole new group of residents moves in. This mass exodus and influx can be a challenge for property professionals as the frantic pace of turnover between academic years makes it difficult to track students down to discuss charges for repairs and maintenance as everyone scatters to the four winds the moment the term is up. Managing risk becomes a major hurdle, as well, with so many people moving in and out at once, and accidents caused or exacerbated by hazards on the property can be very costly for owners.
One of the key factors in this chaos is that property inspections are often conducted using paper-based forms that lack a practical way to integrate digital images, such as photographs of units taken before residents move in and after they move out. Only by moving to mobile inspections can student housing managers and owners get ahead of the curve, and stay there.
Who Did the Damage?
It is vital to track the state of all units in a property before every move-in and after every move-out. Without this level of attention, it becomes almost impossible to tell when a wall was scuffed, a carpet torn, or a window broken. This is especially true in a student housing property, where hundreds of move-ins and move-outs happen concurrently.
Regulations often limit how long property managers have to work out security deposit withholdings with residents, and with thousands of students coming and going all at once across your student properties, handling cases with incomplete or out-of-date records can have costly consequences. Without concrete evidence that property damage was not present before a resident moved in, it is impossible to prove when damage occurred — and who is responsible for it. That can leave property companies unable to collect money that is rightfully theirs.
Behind the Times, Behind the Curve
Traditional inspection approaches suffer from an inherent lack of customizability and organization. Timestamped photographs are indispensible for proving when damage first appeared in a unit, but associating photographs with specific line-items or even specific reports with Excel- and paper-based checklists is slow, tedious, and often incomplete. Matching forms and photos related to a specific inspection can take hours and may ultimately not even yield the necessary information. Mobile inspections stored in the cloud and accessible from any web browser condense both the record-keeping and reference processes from days or weeks to only a few seconds.
Digital and mobile technologies have revolutionized record keeping in almost every industry — including inspecting student housing. Mobile platforms feature timestamped in-line photography, which empowers staff to capture images of units, appliances , or any problem areas so they can conclusively prove when damage occurred and who is responsible for it. Mobile inspections better walk staff through each inspection line item and make it easier to record photographs of every possible repair or replacement necessary. This makes it easy to contact the appropriate student within the allotted time and explain why deposit funds are being withheld.
With people moving in and out in large numbers, the risk of injury skyrockets. Students and their families haul furniture up and down crowded hallways, pile up boxes, and generally make units and common areas more hazardous to move through.
In the case of an accident to prove a building’s managers or owners liable, residents and visitors who suffer accidents need only prove that building management were aware of a hazard and did nothing to fix it, or were unaware of the problem due to a lack of regular inspections. Inspections performed using outdated methods do not include timestamped photographs to prove definitively whether management knew about a hazard or took steps to fix it, and how often they performed walkthroughs to minimize risk.
Timestamped photographs also make it easy to prove that management kept regular and responsible track of any common areas. Images of a stairway in perfect repair timestamped once a week can provide a record of proper maintenance, so that if someone falls down the stairs two days after the last photo, no one can claim that management showed a pattern of negligence. Likewise, pictures of a hazard marked off by warning signage or being repaired can show that staff took reasonable steps to address emerging issues.
Preparing for Growing Pains
The compounding issues of safety and maintenance make the move-in and move-out season especially daunting for the student housing industry, as huge numbers of people come and go all at once. Digital and mobile technology streamlines the high-stress turnover period, allowing property management personnel to easily track when damage to a unit first appeared, to accurately document maintenance issues, and swiftly enact repairs. Leveraging the latest innovations into the inspection process can reduce overhead, minimize stress, and streamline the way we keep students responsible and safe.
— Jindou Lee is CEO of HappyCo, a San Francisco-based software company that builds mobile and cloud solutions to enable real-time property operations.. Its Happy Inspector product is used by thousands of companies and has captured more than 100 million items inspected. The company was founded in 2011 and is privately held.