Duke is not responsible for any damage to students' personal property that occurs in on-campus housing.
Following the fire in Brown Dormitory earlier this semester, many students were surprised to learn that the University insurance did not cover damaged personal property. University officials said students are encouraged to purchase renters insurance to protect themselves in these instances, because standard homeowners insurance may not cover damages on-campus. Duke does not offer renters insurance to their students.
“There isn’t a great deal that Duke is in a position to do,” Dean for Residential Life Joe Gonzalez said in regards to property losses from fires and other accidents. “That is why in the license we do encourage students to get renters insurance to protect themselves in this type of circumstance.”
The Duke Housing License and Terms for 2013-2014 states that, “The University is not liable for damage or loss of personal property kept in the resident’s assigned space or in other areas of University housing. Because the University does not provide property insurance, residents are encouraged to secure their own personal property insurance.”
Director of Corporate Risk Management Christopher Boroski noted that Duke does not cover student property because Duke itself does not incur a financial loss when student property is damaged.
“Property insurance is considered first party coverage, meaning the party purchasing the coverage expects to sustain a monetary loss in the event of an accident covered by the policy, and is entitled to receive benefits,” Boroski wrote in an email last Monday. “Duke sustains no monetary loss when student property is damaged, and therefore is not entitled to an insurance recovery.”
Many students do not know that this is the case. In the immediate aftermath of the fire last month in Brown dorm, Housing, Dining and Residence Life received a large number of questions about whether Duke would reimburse students for damaged property.
At a meeting with Brown residents the day after the fire, Gonzalez passed out copies of the relevant portion of the housing license. Many students at the meeting were surprised by the fact that their property might not be covered.
Travis Wolf, a freshman living in Brown, said he was not previously aware of Duke’s no liability policy and was surprised upon learning of it.
"If the damage is not because of the student's actions, I would expect Duke University to cover the full cost and insure anything that was lost by the student,” he said.
According to a 2010 report from the Insurance Information Institute, many students living in on-campus housing are covered by their parents’ homeowners insurance, but this coverage is not universal and there may be a cap on the total amount of coverage. Off campus housing is less likely to be covered, the report said.
Gonzalez did express concern at the fact that students were unaware of their insurance status.
“Perhaps we need to develop a strategy to make sure this has higher awareness with the students,” Gonzalez said.
Accidents in dorm rooms and apartments do happen with some regularity, but they are rarely serious enough to cause major property damage, Gonzalez said.
Neither Gonzalez nor Boroski could provide exact numbers on the frequency of fires and floods. However, both said that there are normally a small number of accidents in dorms and apartments every year and that there have been 2-4 other incidents with substantial student property damage over the past ten years.
“I’ve been here almost ten years and I know in that time [the Brown fire] is the third fire we’ve had where an individual’s room or apartment sustained significant damage,” Gonzalez said.
In the Brown fire, only one student sustained significant damage to their property and only one other student had any property damage of any kind that was reported to HDRL, Gonzalez said.
Duke does not have information on how many students have insurance coverage for their property at Duke, Boroski wrote.