Fraternity House

This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.

Question: I’m a brother at a small fraternity on my campus. I have the idea of trying to get a house for my fraternity, but have no idea how to go about it, how a house should be run, payments and the like. I would appreciate a general overview about housing and tips and anything else you can tell me about housing for a fraternity of around 22 brothers. Thank you!


Answer: We get a lot of housing questions here, and even with all our expertise and experience, they’re hard to answer because every single campus is different. But, I’ll give it a try.

You have 22 guys. You should essentially be able to 25-40% of them in a house. The lower end of that is the safer bet, but you can stretch it when you’re renting year to year. So, in your case, I’d say you’re looking at probably 5-7 guys you can put in a house.

Is there a 5-7 bedroom property in your community that provides enough common space to function as a fraternity house? Is it located in a neighborhood where they’re going to tolerate a fraternity being there? Is it proximate to campus? When I say proximate, is it a couple blocks away where your members will park there & hang out between classes or is it a few miles away? Is it near other fraternity houses? Or student housing? What are you going to do there? Are you going to have parties? How big are they going to be? Will you have problems with police &/or neighbors if you try to do that at this location? Are you going to have meetings there, do ritual, what? What size and configurations of spaces do you need for those functions? Is this particular location and configuration going to lend itself more to being a party palace that makes that the main focus of your chapter and causes your residents to make bad grades, or can you possibly make it into a legitimate living-learning environment?

With all that running through your head, you need to go figure out what the city ordinances are on the subject. It usually requires a conditional use permit to operate a fraternity on a given property. There are conditions on that and it may require a public hearing &/or presentation to the city planning commission.

Then there’s the landlord. You can imagine if you owned a rental property you might be a bit concerned that a fraternity is going to be harder on it than a random group of students. You also have to pay significantly higher property insurance.

You have a nationals that probably has some policies you need to follow as well. At minimum the insurance portion of your national fees is going to go up 15-30% depending on the fraternity. They may also have some specific policies about how a house must be managed or certain safety & risk management things you have to do when you have a house. Ask and they’ll tell you.

Then what are you going to do internally? I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in a fraternity house, but it can be a bit of a sacrifice. Your friends don’t randomly walk into your private apartment at all hours without knocking. There’s not someone playing pool on the other side of your bedroom wall at 3am when you have a test the next day. There’s not a constant stream of highly distracting entertainment to keep you from doing your job as a student. As a fraternity, when asking your members to live in a place like this, you have to compensate them. There’s an authority issue that comes with this too. If only the residents are paying the rent/bills then why do non-residents get a say in anything – be it when the place can be used or who is allowed inside. As a chapter, you’re going to have to pay some money from dues to split the cost of this location. It may be residents pay the rent and chapter pays the bills or it could be something more complex than that. It just needs to be fair. You may need to increase dues to do that, and the best way to do so is with a “parlor fee” on non-residents that goes directly and only to paying for the house. That is essentially rent from the non-residents for use of the property.

It’s real easy for a group of guys to go rent a house. It’s just as easy to throw some composites on the wall and call it a fraternity house. That’s a terrible idea. You won’t be covered by national insurance if you do that. The landlord’s insurance won’t cover them or you. And, you could well get in trouble with the school, nationals, the city/county, &/or find yourself evicted at an inconvenient time without having done anything really bad.

I know how important a house can be to the operation and development of a fraternity and its members. My advice to you though is to find a group of responsible alumni to serve as your housing corporation and let them help you navigate through this situation. If you are brand new chapter without alumni, then work with your nationals and the school to identify people that might be willing to help. They don’t necessarily have to be initiates of your fraternity to serve on a housing corp.

My even bigger advice is recruit more guys. At 22 members, you’re going to have a very hard time sustaining housing. Keeping a place full from year to year or ever hoping to buy/build a property in the future is going to be near impossible unless you grow. If you think housing alone is going to fix your numbers, it’ll probably give you a little bump, but it won’t solve the problem. You’re not going from 22 to 50-70 because you have a house. You might get to 35 if you’re lucky. There are other problems with your organization that are causing you to stay that small. You can get a house, I’m not against that, but you need to focus on changing your chapter into something that attracts more people. In my fraternity, a chapter of 22 would be in danger of losing their charter and have extra visits from nationals hoping to turn you around before they have to shut the doors for lack of interest. Before you try to get a house, at very least, have a retreat to address those other issues with what needs to change about your chapter and where you need to be going. That way, you can look for a location & facility that work with those goals instead of against them. Remember, form follows function.

Good luck. Keep us updated, and please feel free to ask additional questions as you go. If you’d like to chat privately, send another question through with your contact info and Pat will forward it to me.

This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.

– This answer was written by Dennis Nall, an alumni brother from Alpha Tau Omega and contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!






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