Last year I wrote about asking my colleagues to take two steps backward to revisit the goals and foundation of one of our most high-touch processes — end of year damages. In some way, shape, or form all of our residents participate in the process. Even by accepting a key on move-in day, they are accepting responsibility for the condition of the room to which they are assigned. When I asked my colleagues to take two steps back and revisit the process, I made it a primary goal to reduce the amount of damage billing we generated — both from individual room damages and common area damages. After crunching the numbers this week, I believe we were successful in both fronts — we saw a more than $9,000 reduction in common area damages and more than $20,000 reduction in individual damages and fines.
While it was my goal, it was the work of a village. Many people have asked over the past few days how we did it. Here’s a recap:
- We returned to a paper room condition report. Each room type had its own report, meaning there wasn’t superfluous information. Everything on a report related to a student’s specific room assignment.
- We returned to staff conducting check-in inspections ahead of a student’s arrival instead of relying on the student to do it in the hustle and bustle of moving in (or trying to do it after 2 or 3 other roommates arrived).
- We did a better job training RAs on the importance of the document, shared our goal with them, and spent more time reviewing how to complete a proper inspection.
- We talked to RAs about how to best respond to incidents of common area damages, including immediate response and then responding within the community in the days following.
- In communities that started showing signs of elevated common area damages, staff met with the residents to find out what was going on. Because I believe damages are a resident’s way of communicating something to us, these meetings were effective at mitigating problems and providing an outlet for students to talk to RAs, RDs, or me.
- When RDs submitted damages for billing, they sat down and reviewed the spreadsheets and photos with me. I reviewed for consistency so one staff member wasn’t harder on community members than another.
- We worked more closely than ever with custodial staff to determine what is reasonable to bill to residents and what is normal use of public spaces. A razor left in a shower? Not billable. Four bags of trash? Absolutely.
Last year 699 students (almost 2/3 of our residential population) received a billing notice from our office. This afternoon just over 300 will and while I don’t doubt we’ll still face some frustration — which we’ll gladly hear in our appeal process — I also know that we took two steps backward to make a giant leap forward in our relationships and expectations of students and their families.