The College Dorm in Your Hotel: Considerations for Owners and Operators

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Highlights

  • The COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities throughout the country to close early in spring 2020 and empty out their dormitories. The fall 2020 semester changes caused university administrators to think beyond the norm when it came to reopening safely in order to maintain social distancing requirements and address the concerns of students and their families.
  • Typical college dormitories cramming two, three or more students into a room are becoming a thing of the past as schools face the new reality of campus housing in the time of coronavirus. A growing number of colleges and universities have entered into agreements with hotels for the use of guest rooms for their students.
  • Although such an agreement can be a silver lining during a challenging year for hotels and provide a steady stream of revenue for months to come, there are a number of issues and concerns that hotel owners and operators should consider before entering into any agreement with a college or university.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities throughout the country to close early in spring 2020 and empty out their dormitories. The fall 2020 semester changes caused university administrators to think beyond the norm when it came to reopening safely in order to maintain social distancing requirements and address the concerns of students and their families. Typical college dormitories cramming two, three or more students into a room are becoming a thing of the past as schools face the new reality of campus housing in the time of coronavirus. Many schools do not have the space to provide each student with their own room or even a larger shared room. The campus space crunch will get worse during the fall semester as study abroad programs are canceled or if campus outbreaks necessitate further distancing.

Temporarily housing students in hotels is a practical and immediate solution. This option resolves a logistical nightmare by allowing students to socially distance and, depending on the state, permits schools to comply with emerging guidelines issued by state and local health departments. A growing number of colleges and universities have entered into agreements for the use of guest rooms for their students. Likewise, entering into an agreement with a college or university can be a silver lining during a challenging year for hotels and provide a steady stream of revenue for months to come.

Some of the requirements and priorities for colleges in evaluating a hotel include: proximity to campus, whether students can have an entire floor, wing or tower of the hotel, limited elevator access, high-speed internet and Wi-Fi, security, cleaning, dining options, parking, laundry, meeting spaces and additional amenities.

Before entering into any agreement with a college or university, hotel owners and operators should consider the following issues and concerns:

  • Agreement – Depending on the size and length of the booking and other factors (i.e., a block of rooms versus certain floors or the entire hotel), should the agreement be structured as a lease or license agreement?
  • Zoning – Is this use contemplated under the hotel's current zoning designation?
  • Insurance – Does the existing insurance coverage apply to this use?
  • Security – How is security managed at the hotel? Will school security be on-site? Will key card controls in elevators need to be installed to limit access to certain floors?
  • Amenities – If the law allows, will students have access to hotel amenities such as a swimming pool, sauna, gym or business center? If so, will access be regulated or different rules apply to students than apply to other hotel guests?
  • Cleaning – How will room maintenance and cleaning be handled? By the school or by the hotel? How will it be handled for students who are COVID-19 positive or quarantined? How will garbage and waste collection be handled? Will the hotel's housekeeping service apply to student rooms? Are there union considerations?
  • Public Areas – What rules and regulations will be in place to govern activity and behavior in public areas like the lobby, hallways or amenity spaces? What about activity and behavior in the hotel rooms? Who will be responsible to enforce those rules?
  • Noise – If the hotel houses both students and other hotel guests, how will noise concerns be mitigated? Will there be nightly curfews? Who will enforce? What will be the remedies for violations?
  • Complaints – How will disputes between students at the hotel be handled? Or complaints between students and with other guests?
  • Dining/Food – Will students be permitted to have microwaves or refrigerators in their room? What about other kitchen items such as coffee makers, hot plates, etc.? Will restaurants/bars/lounges be open to students? How will the costs be handled?
  • FF&E – What, if any, furniture, fixtures and equipment will be removed before the students check in? What items may students bring in to the hotel?
  • Damages – How will damages to the hotel and its furniture and fixtures be handled? What is the scope of the school's insurance? Are there any statutory immunities?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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