All In: Village Green Cos.' residents at Regents Park of Troy in Troy, Mich., jump into their community pool as part of Splash Day, a summer kick-off party and fundraiser.
All In: Village Green Cos.' residents at Regents Park of Troy in Troy, Mich., jump into their community pool as part of Splash Day, a summer kick-off party and fundraiser.

Grandview Terrace, an apartment community located a few blocks from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, received three out of five stars on the popular rating site Not bad, right? Wait until you read one resident’s review: “If you want to party 24/7, this is the place to be. The management doesn’t hassle you at all. Residents like to pull hilarious pranks like urinating in the clothes dryers and J&J [Management] doesn’t seem to mind. If you like quiet and tranquility, stay away from here. But if you love to get drunk and party endlessly … run, don’t walk, to Grandview Terrace.”

Yikes. Comments like these make Animal House seem tame. Apartment firms want to show their residents a good time, but certainly not at the expense of their properties’ reputations. While this apartment review seems extreme, it does offer a nugget of wisdom for property managers: Don’t let your residents throw all the parties. Community-sponsored events, be they Superbowl parties or summer pool bashes, are a great way to show your residents a good time—in a safe, controlled environment.

“Don’t be scared to have parties because the benefits always outweigh the risks if you manage the risk,” says Heidi Much, vice president of risk management services for Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Village Green Cos. “Parties create such a sense of community at an apartment complex that you wouldn’t normally get, and the benefits are huge. Plus, the public relations that you get out of a party are better than anything you could buy.”

Particularly during tough economic times, residents appreciate these complimentary or low-cost events. “Instead of them having to pay $7 or $8 to go see a movie, we are hosting our own movie nights in our media rooms and doing it free of charge,” says Patrick R. Seville, regional manager for Forest City Washington, a division of Cleveland-based Forest City Residential.

Granted, hosting a free movie night isn’t complicated—simply refresh your NetFlix queue and serve fresh popcorn and soft drinks—but many events involve detailed up-front planning and logistical know-how. Here are four tips to ensure that your next bash scores five stars—for all the right reasons.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan

Thousands of bikini-clad coeds. Sparkling pools. Sounds like a scene from a spring break party, right? Not quite as wild and crazy, thanks to careful planning on the part of Campus Apartments, one of the country’s largest developers and managers of student housing. The Philadelphia-based company hosts four mega parties every year and plans each event one year in advance.

“We do a very detailed preparation, everything from making sure trash and recycling containers will be on hand to ensuring we have the staff to address situations that might occur,” says Miles H. Orth, Campus Apartments’ chief operating officer.

Orth stresses the importance of sharing the party dates with local police and fire departments, as well as neighbors. “People are typically willing to forgive a problem if they know that every effort was taken to foresee potential problems,” he says.

To prevent any possible snags, Phoenix, Ariz.-based Mark-Taylor Residential hires a professional party planner to manage its larger events. “It’s a lot to take on, and we are not professional party planners,” says Kim Atkinson, director of marketing and public relations for Mark-Taylor, which owns and manages 35 luxury communities throughout Arizona. “If you provide planners with how much you are able to spend on your event, they will figure out how you can do ABC, and they will factor their fee into that as well.”

2. Watch your Wallet

A few months ago, residents at Forest City Residential’s Museum Tower in Philadelphia enjoyed a glass of wine, warm macadamia brownies, and relaxing massages. The cost for residents? $0. And even better, the cost for Forest City? $0. The experience? Priceless. The event was part of Forest City’s “Merchant of the Month” program, where apartment communities throughout the firm’s portfolio partner with nearby vendors that offer tastings and other freebies in exchange for advertising.

“With today’s economy, we really have to be creative, and the program has helped us do that,” says Kelly O’Connell, regional marketing manager for Forest City Residential Management.

Forest City also has found other ways to save bucks without sacrificing quality. The company shaved $6,000 off the cost of its annual holiday party at The Grand, a 549-unit luxury rental community in Bethesda, Md., by swapping paid musicians for the free voices of nearby prep school students; serving dishes from a gourmet grocery instead of hiring a catering company; and transforming property staff into waiters as an alternative to paid servers.

3. Control the Booze

Many might argue that a party isn’t complete without a glass of wine or a bottle of Corona. Tread lightly, if you decide to quench your residents’ thirst. “Dram shop laws are very complex, and you may still be liable whether or not money is exchanged,” says Christopher Iavarone, an associate in the real estate group at Washington, D.C.-based Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. “Also, social host laws, which exist in a number of states, hold a party host responsible if a guest is served improperly—serving a minor, serving an intoxicated guest. Those laws have both civil and criminal penalties.”

The cardinal rule to avoid risk: Never allow management staff to serve alcohol. “If we hold social activities at the site, we try to avoid alcohol as that is the safest way to avoid risk,” says Village Green’s Much. “When we do offer alcohol, we will hire a bartender or a caterer, and that transfers that liability to the entity or the people serving the liquor.” Iavarone also advises enlisting an on-site staffer or a vendor to monitor the crowd for excessive drinking.

4. invite the Public

Parties are a great way to show off your communities. This past summer, Mark-Taylor Residential hosted 31 pool parties throughout its portfolio as part of its “Summer of Love” campaign. The highly publicized event, dubbed a “floating pool party,” moved from one property to the next, with about 300 people at each bash. The parties helped generate 16,813 leads for June, July, and August, which translated into 1,897 leases. Each property contributed $2,500 toward the campaign, equaling $5 per lead and $44 per lease. “It’s a great value and a lot of exposure each community would not be able to generate on its own,” Atkinson says.

The Irvine Co. Apartment Communities couldn’t agree more. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based firm throws fancy galas at its Golden State properties. In addition to boosting resident retention, these events catch the eye of prospects. “Guests experience the hospitality and energy of the property,” says Kevin Baldridge, the firm’s senior vice president of operations, “and invariably, [they] end up coming back to the leasing office a week or two or three weeks later to inquire about renting at the community.”

Club Hopping

Simple ground rules ensure clubhouses keep their luster.

Party Zone: This warm, inviting club house at The Village at Irvine Spectrum Center in Irvine, Calif., is one of several gathering spots residents can rent for private use.
Party Zone: This warm, inviting club house at The Village at Irvine Spectrum Center in Irvine, Calif., is one of several gathering spots residents can rent for private use.

The Village at Irvine Spectrum Center offers a clubroom to suit just about anyone’s needs—a large banquet room capable of entertaining 120 people, a sports-themed lounge modeled after ESPN Zone, and a cozy library, for starters. The Irvine Co. Apartment Communities requires residents to follow a typical set of clubhouse rental rules: Residents pay a security deposit and sign a contract assuming responsibility for the behavior of their guests and the cleanup of the space. “For the most part, we haven’t had any incidents,” says Michelle Reines, who oversees the property as a regional manager for Newport Beach, Calif.-based The Irvine Co. “Residents really appreciate having these venues, so they respect the space and hold their friends accountable for respecting the space.”

Pamela V. Rothenberg, managing member in law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice’s Washington, D.C., office, equates renting out a clubhouse to renting an apartment unit. “You need a written agreement that encapsulates their rights and obligations just like a lease,” she says. “If there is a circumstance where there could be damage or failure of cleanup, you want to have a deposit.”

Liability insurance—both for the property and potentially the resident—also is critical. “If it’s legally permissible, require the tenant to maintain liability insurance,” says Christopher Iavarone, an associate in the real estate group at Womble Carlyle. “Also, check with your property insurance company to make sure your policy covers alcohol liability, as you may find yourself in a situation where a tenant is judgment-proof because they have no money.”