Does MJ have a stance on gas range versus electric stove for chapters with live-in members who utilize the kitchen to cook?
We typically discourage members from having access to kitchen equipment beyond just a toaster, microwave, coffee maker and refrigerator. This is particularly important in houses that have commercial kitchens because the stoves, ovens, etc as well as other large equipment that can be tricky and unsafe to operate without special training. While we understand that there are many members that live in smaller residential-type houses around the country that do have access to residential kitchen equipment, we are concerned that there are risks associated with allowing members even that kind of equipment – burns, leaving the oven on and setting fire, etc. As with most things, it is up to each organization to determine if they are comfortable with the level of risk.
That all said, I would think that an electric range would be safer than a gas range because you avoid the chance of a gas leak or catching something on fire from the regular open flame.
We have had a claim in which Christmas lights that were wrapped around curtains on a curtain rod were left plugged in for several days (maybe weeks) and caught on fire. That said, string lights may be safe if members are willing to follow the safety recommendations, and it doesn’t go against your organization’s internal policies.
Review this resource from Travelers Risk Control for several risk management guidelines regarding the use of holiday decorations.
Like any electric appliance, electric blankets can spark fires in the home that damage property and threaten lives. To reduce your risk of fire when using one of these blankets, remind your members to do the following:
- Switch the unit off when finished using it.
- Inspect blanket daily for any signs of damage or wear, and replace blanket if you spot problems such as frayed wires.
- Use and maintain blanket according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and replace it at least every ten years even it if still appears in good condition.
- Make sure the electric blanket is plugged into a single outlet and not daisy-chained to one outlet, increasing the risk for overload.
There are some health conditions (pregnancy, diabetes, to name a few) for which doctors discourage the use of electric blankets. Make sure your member residents have cleared the use of an electric blanket with their health care provider.
As a general practice, we discourage use of space heaters in sorority facilities. Alternate heat sources cause the majority of residential-related fires, and keeping the women safe is our top priority. Additional concerns include combustible material getting too close to the unit, condition of the electrical system within the facility, etc.
We have had several bunk bed-related claims over the history of the MJ Sorority Department. We recommend the following risk management requirements when it comes to bunk beds in the chapter facility: require that bunk beds be commercially manufactured, require that the top bunk have permanent rails installed, and require that the bunk bed not be placed adjacent to a window.
The insurance program does not have a candle exclusion; however, most of our clients have policies regarding the use of candles in the chapter facility and prudent risk management suggests that candles should not be allowed in the chapter house. There are so many battery-operated alternatives these days that are realistic and high quality that it is our opinion that real candles should not be used in sorority-owned properties.
We recommend that chapter members take their personal property home at the end of each school year. The organization is not responsible for damage to member’s personal property at anytime throughout the year. In addition, there is typically less oversight and more outsider traffic (with renovation and maintenance work) in the chapter house during the summer months, which makes it more likely for theft or damage to occur to any personal property left at the property.
From an insurance standpoint, we recommend that any snack/weekend kitchens available to members do not include hot plates, ovens or stoves due to fire and burn concerns. However, if the House Corporation would like to have a microwave, refrigerator, sink and toaster available, that would be acceptable. Please contact us directly to discuss further if necessary.
What should each House Corporation do on a regular basis to maintain the replacement value when new furniture has been purchased and should we inform the insurance agent of major purchases?
The current value of your contents or furniture as listed on your Insurance Overview document from MJ Sorority Division is the cost of replacing these items if they would be damaged or destroyed by an insured peril. In buying new furniture to replace existing furniture, you do not necessarily always increase the cost of the item that is already contemplated in the total value. If however, your replacement is materially of a higher grade than that of what is being replaced, then notification of MJ would be prudent. As an insured, you are obligated to insure 100% value of your property and the insurance company is obligated to replace it at 100% of the value.
Video cameras on the exterior of your premises can be a good deterrent if you are having problems with vandalism of the property or of the exterior doors not being as secured as you would wish.
Interior cameras are another matter altogether and the member’s right of privacy must be weighed against any pressing need to have interior surveillance.
Candle warmers (e.g. Scentsys, wax burners, etc.) are an alternative to candles that eliminate the open flame while still allowing for the fragrance aspect of candles that many enjoy. From a risk management perspective, we do not see a fire hazard risk with these types of appliances. However, the hot wax poses the potential for messy spills and burns. We defer to the local House Corporation to determine whether or not to allow these types of appliances on premises.
How do we know if we have an adequate limit of insurance for Loss of Income and Extra Expense coverage?
The insurance policy covers against loss resulting from necessary interruption of business caused by direct physical loss of or damage to covered property. The Loss of Income coverage will pay for the loss of rental income that a House Corporation may incur if members have to move to alternative housing due to the property being damaged by an insured peril. The policy will pay for equivalent temporary replacement quarters if you can no longer occupy the facility.
The insurance company will also pay for reasonable and necessary extra expenses incurred in order to continue as nearly as practicable the normal operation of the business. This could include increased costs of providing meal services, payroll or any legal obligations by contract (i.e. taxes or insurance).
All of the above should be taken into consideration when determining if you have an adequate limit of insurance for Loss of Income and Extra Expense. We recommend that at a minimum your Loss of Income/Extra Expense limit is equal to a year’s rental income. If you have trouble determining your Loss of Income limit, the annual average is $9,000 per live-in occupant. You may want to use that figure multiplied by your number of occupants if you do not have accurate rental income information.
Refer to your Insurance Overview to determine your location’s current Loss of Income/Extra Expense limit.
The property coverage under the Sorority insurance program is written on a replacement cost value basis, which means that in the event a claim, the policy will pay the cost to repair or replace lost or damaged property with property of comparable material and quality on the same or another site, and used for the same purpose, without deduction for depreciation, deterioration, and obsolescence. Conversely, property insurance policies are often written on an actual cash value basis, which means that the policy will pay for the replacement cost of an item minus depreciation, which, depending on the item, can often be a high deduction.
We have developed the Chapter House Self-Inspection form (and the accompanying recommendations) for just this purpose. The form walks the user through a series of safety considerations throughout the chapter house. We recommend that the House Corporation perform the self-inspection on an annual basis (the summer is the perfect time!).We have also developed a Property Maintenance Checklist, which makes it easy for House Corporations to record their maintenance efforts throughout the year.
According to the recent University Housing Report compiled by FEMA, 76.5 percent of campus fires start in the kitchen! For that reason, we recommend that you limit the use of your commercial kitchen space to trained professionals.
As we see it, the equipment in the kitchen represents a significant financial expense for the property owner to purchase and maintain. The presumption by the insurance company is that the staff, who work with this commercial equipment, are properly trained on the proper use of the equipment. This is the preferable way to protect this investment.
Indiscriminate use by untrained individuals not only puts the equipment at risk but improper use also puts the entire facility in harm’s way. Certainly a kitchen can be a high hazard area even for the trained personnel. Other risks include injury to the member while cooking in the kitchen and issues with proper food storage.
Ultimately the property owner must decide the manner under which their kitchen is utilized, taking into consideration other issues that emerge as respects to general chapter operations.
Go to www.floodsmart.gov, enter your address in the red box titled “One-Step Flood Risk Profile” along the lefthand side of the screen, and your flood risk will be generated. Please contact us if you wish to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program after determining your flood zone risk.
The insurance company’s loss control department discourages the installation of exterior wood burning pits or similar setups for the following reasons:
- Such a device could possibly create sparks or burning embers, which could be captured by strong winds and possibly cause a building and/or grass fire.
- There would be the possibility that the unit is left unattended at times, especially after the fire has effectively died down for the evening. The fire could actually still be smoldering and could possibly re-ignite, causing problems as noted above. Any time someone goes to add additional wood to a fire already going, there would be the potential for burns.
- There would be a burn potential when persons initially ignite the fire, especially if they pour a large amount of a highly flammable fluid onto the wood to start the fire, such as charcoal lighter (could be spilled onto their persons, making this a potentially critical situation).
- If the pit is portable raises a number questions, all of which could cause problems, such as just how sturdy is the pit? What if someone tries to move/push it while it is still burning or is still hot? (It could fall over, resulting in a fire and/or burns). What if the unit is initially positioned too close to a building or other combustibles and then lighted?
We recommend that the use of outdoor grills fit into the following perimeters:
- Grills of any type should not be used on wood decks due to the fire risk.
- Gas grills are safer to use from a fire safety standpoint because they do not involve the use of flammable liquids, such as lighter fluid, or of hot coals during the grilling process. Hot coals also pose a disposal risk.
- Gas grills are less safe during the lighting process. If excessive gas builds up in a closed grill before being lit, it can cause an explosion. Gas grills should always be lit with the lid open, and the gas tank should be turned to the off position following each use.
- Instructions for use of the grill should be posted clearly next to the grill and the use of the grill should be restricted to responsible persons who have been instructed on safety measures.
Typical smoke alarms last about eight-to-ten years, after which they should be replaced. Like most electrical devices, smoke alarms wear out. You may want to write the purchase date with a marker on the inside of your unit. That way, you’ll know when to replace it. We also recommend that smoke detector batteries are changed annually.
For more tips about smoke detectors, check out this article at mjsorority.com.
We have a boiler in our chapter house and there appears to be some type of tag with an expiration date on it. What obligations do we have as a property owner with this item?
Each state has inspection requirements for pressurized vessels or boilers being inspected by a boiler inspector on a regular basis. The tag reflects the status of your item with the state. Should you determine that the expiration date on the tag has expired, please contact Bev Stiles who will assist you with this matter.