As you enter the summer months there are several things that should be done to ensure the property is protected while vacant:

  • Make sure preparations for any summer projects have been completed and a plan of action is in place.
  • Check all rooms and areas of the house to determine if security deposits should be returned or kept to pay for damages. You should refer to the move-in form you used at the start of the year. You should have the tenant sign the form on move-out also.
  • Clean all areas of the house and make sure all food has been removed or properly stored. Be sure all trash is removed from the property.
  • All hallways should be cleared of debris, clutter, and\or furniture and all fire doors must be closed.
  • Thermostats should be set to appropriate levels and hot water heater should set to “pilot” position, but not turned off. The boiler pump switches should be turned off for the summer.
  • Unplug all appliances, open refrigerators and freezers and empty ice makers if they are unplugged.
  • Secure and\or store all awards, composites, trophies, and any other valuables.
  • The outside of the house should be cleaned, including making sure the gutters are clear (we would recommend a professional who is properly insured). Be especially aware of any combustibles that may be stored against the exterior of the house. This should be properly disposed of.
  • Check interior and exterior lighting and all external doors to ensure proper security of the property and set any lighting timers to dusk to dawn setting.
  • Ensure that all broken windows have been repaired and are locked and blinds\drapes are closed.
  • All shrubbery should be trimmed to prevent easy hiding by anyone who may try to break in to the property. The landscaping should be properly maintained during the summer months.
  • The university police and/or local police should be notified whether anyone should be or will be at the property during the summer. Ask them to patrol regularly if possible.
  • An alumnus or responsible other party should have a key to access the facility if needed and check on the property at least weekly. Remember to disable resident, chapter members’, and employee key\swipe access and\or collect all keys from them. House corporation representative and\or house director, if applicable, should be the last people to leave the house.
  • Discontinue all services not needed during break, including mail, newspapers, food deliveries, garbage, etc.
  • Create and distribute list to house corporation members, chapter leadership, house director, if applicable, and headquarters contact the names and contact information for house corporation and chapter leadership, all staff members, important vendors and service providers, and appropriate emergency phone numbers.

Thanks to our business partner, CSL Management, for this resource.

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We recommend that you complete a House Inventory Checklist and review it once a year (note about this resource: we have made this resource available in Excel because it has built-in formulas for easy manipulation and calculation. Once you click on the link, you can click on the download link in the upper righthand corner to edit your own version). For more information about the property coverage, please click here.

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Use the Chapter House Self-Inspection checklist to review your property and life-safety risk management.

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This guide from Travelers, the insurance company for MJ Sorority clients, provides information on incorporating best practices and a prevention plan to help reduce the risks of slips, trips and falls at your business and on your premises.

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This guide from Travelers, the insurance company for MJ Sorority clients, provides step by step instructions on how to develop a fire safety plan for your building.

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This guide from Travelers, the insurance company for MJ Sorority clients, provides information for property owners on liability regarding sidewalks.

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A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population begins to cause serious illness and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide. Planning for pandemic influenza by business and industry is essential to minimize a pandemic’s impact.

The risk for infection can be reduced through a combination of actions. No single action provides complete protection, but a combined approach can help decrease the likelihood of transmission. To aid in pandemic contingency planning, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has suggested the following steps that every employer can take to reduce the risk of exposure to pandemic influenza in their workplace, which also applies to our chapter facilities:

  • People who are sick with an influenza-like illness (ILI) (fever plus at least cough or sore throat and possibly other symptoms like runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea) should stay home and keep away from others as much as possible, including avoiding travel, for at least 24 hours after fever is gone. (Fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Encourage employees and members to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or with hand sanitizer if there is no soap or water available. Also, encourage employees and members to avoid touching their noses, mouths, and eyes.
  • Encourage employees and residents to cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or to cough and sneeze into their upper sleeves if tissues are not available. Employees and members should wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer after they cough, sneeze, or blow their noses.
  • Employees should avoid close contact with their coworkers and residents. They should avoid shaking hands and always wash their hands after contact with others. Even if employees wear gloves, they should wash their hands upon removal of the gloves incase their hand(s) became contaminated during the removal process.
  • Provide extra tissues and trash receptacles and a place to wash or disinfect hands for all guests, employees, and residents.
  • Keep work surfaces, desks, computers, and other frequently touched surfaces clean. Use only disinfectants registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and follow all directions and safety precautions indicated on the label.
  • Discourage employees and members from using other people’s phones, desks, laptops, or other tools and equipment.
  • Minimize situations, such as in a meeting, where groups of people are crowded together. Use e-mail, phones, and text messages to communicate with each other. When meetings are necessary, avoid close contact by keeping a separation of at least 6 ft, where possible, and assure that there is proper ventilation in the meeting room.
  • Reduce or eliminate unnecessary social interactions, which can be very effective in controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Reconsider all situations that permit or require employees, members, and visitors (including family members) to enter the facility. Chapters may want to consider restricting/eliminating guest visitation options during an influenza pandemic.
  • Promote healthy lifestyles, including vaccination for seasonal flu, good nutrition, exercise, and smoking cessation. A person’s overall health impacts their body’s immune system and can affect their ability to fight off, or recover from, an infectious disease.

More detailed planning information is available from OSHA in Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic (OSHA 3327-02N). Information is also available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) at PandemicFlu.Gov. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a planning guide for small businesses.

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We developed a sprinkler toolbox to help assist property owners with the ways, whens and hows of installing an automatic sprinkler system. If you want a copy, contact us.

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We have created this document in partnership with Heather Moore and Mark Sausser of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in an effort to help our clients address the components of an acceptable Housing Agreement.

Because laws vary widely from municipality to municipality, we recommend that you seek local legal counsel to develop your specific Housing Agreement; however, we hope that you will use the attached resource to avoid common potential pitfalls for Greek facility housing agreements. In addition to the attached checklist, your Housing Agreement should include an addendum listing the rules and requirements expected in a community living environment, as well as a description of how the House Corporation expects that the property be used.

We also recommend that you consider a similar document for non-resident members to follow (often referred to as a membership or parlor agreement) that describes the rights and expectations for non-resident members when they visit the chapter house. As always, should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact your Client Executive.

2020 Addendum: We review and publish the Important Terms for Housing Agreements each year in February for the MJ Housing Forum. Each year, we update the document based on trends and questions that Mark Sausser and Heather Moore from Faegre Drinker see, as well as any trends that MJ Sorority is seeing from our part in your contract reviews. We are all learning from the current experience of broad closings due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and took the opportunity to work with Mark and Heather to provide new language that we suggest that you add to future agreements to clarify closures caused by public health emergencies. The language Mark suggested is below:

Unexpected House Closure. In addition to the other termination rights granted to House Corporation in this Agreement, House Corporation may close the Chapter House and require the members to vacate the same in the event such action is required or encouraged by the University, or if the University has or will cancel or suspend in-person classes, whether due to public health emergencies, pandemics, communicable disease outbreaks or any other reason. In such case, the determination of whether payments made by or due from Member will be credited against future payments (or, with regard to seniors, refunded) will be made on a case by case basis, considering all factors, including the length of time the Chapter House is closed and the fixed expenses incurred by the House Corporation.

DISCLAIMER: This document does not constitute legal advice; it is merely a guide to key components for a housing agreement. The laws relating to the possession of property vary from state to state. Please consult experienced legal counsel when you are preparing housing agreements.

Not a lease. Call your document a housing agreement; do not use landlord/tenant/rent/lease language because those who reside in a fraternity or sorority (hereafter, “fraternity”) house do not have exclusive possession rights as tenants in an apartment complex do. In legal terms, your agreement is therefore not a lease but a license, although you need not use the term “license.” You can add language stating “this is not a lease.”
Payment terms. Each year strive to move closer to the university model: require payment in advance of moving in, either prior to the school year or at least prior to each semester. Consider requiring a direct draw from a credit card or bank account. If possible, the agreement should provide the university “checklist” or other enforcement actions which are available for use following a default by a member.

House Corporation Obligations and Student Rights. Under the housing agreement, obligations of the house corporation and rights of the student are expressly conditioned upon execution of the agreement by parents as parties to the agreement and not merely as guarantors. Parents are directly and fully liable for all obligations of the student under the housing agreement and are jointly and severally liable with student hereunder. Parents shall have no occupancy rights at the house as a result of the housing agreement. Parents acknowledge that they are directly and indirectly benefitted from having the student live in the house and that adequate consideration for entering into the housing agreement has been received.

Fraternity discipline and violation of University Rules or any laws. Provide that a member who is suspended or terminated from membership, is expelled or suspended from the university, or who violates the law is automatically in breach of her agreement and must move out of the premises immediately. A violation of university, fraternity or chapter rules should also be a breach. The agreement should allow the house corporation, at its discretion, to continue the house agreements in place if the chapter as a whole is put on probation, whether by the fraternity or by the university, or is forced to close operations. If the chapter is shut down due to disciplinary matters, it is likely that the owner will want the members out of the house. But if the chapter is closed simply because of a lack of numbers or due to university actions involving Greek organizations generally (e.g., campus-wide suspensions of Greek organizations), the owner may want to reduce its losses by having the members stay until the end of the current academic year.

Knowledge of discipline rules. In the agreement, members acknowledge that they have received, read, understood and agreed to follow all fraternity and university disciplinary rules.

Non-waiver. Provide that the house corporation’s failure to enforce provisions or protections in one instance do not constitute a waiver of its ability to enforce those provisions in future instances.

Who may reside. Provide that only full-time registered students who are members of the fraternity at the college or university may live in the chapter house. The members should agree that rooms may be assigned and reassigned at any time and that the owner need not resolve disputes among members or be responsible for actions of any other members. The agreement must expressly say that it is not assignable by the member.

Damage to House. It is helpful to provide that if the house is damaged and the responsible party is not identified, each of the members will be responsible for an equal share of the cost of repairing that damage and each of their housing deposits can be used to cover the cost of the damage.

Unexpected House Closure. In addition to the other termination rights granted to House Corporation in this Agreement, House Corporation may close the Chapter House and require the members to vacate the same in the event such action is required or encouraged by the University, or if the University has or will cancel or suspend in-person classes, whether due to public health emergencies, pandemics, communicable disease outbreaks or any other reason. In such case, the determination of whether payments made by or due from Member will be credited against future payments (or, with regard to seniors, refunded) will be made on a case by case basis, considering all factors, including the length of time the Chapter House is closed and the fixed expenses incurred by the House Corporation.

Deposits. To the extent permitted by local law, define deposits as “housing deposits” that can be used to remedy failure to pay house bills or to repair damage rather than “security deposits” as to which the law sometimes imposes more limits.

Absence/off campus study. Generally, members should agree to pay the housing fee whether they live in the house or not. It is advisable to have a specific provision about how to handle study abroad, internship and student teaching students, which may range from requiring full payment unless a substitute resident is found, to releasing students from further payments so long as timely notice is provided. (We have attached sample language for this purpose.) It also helps to have the agreements signed at a time when members are most likely to know whether they have been accepted for off campus study. The agreement should also address other hardship causes of absence that may arise (e.g., illness, death in the family, etc.), and provide that the house corporation has no obligation to release students from the agreement, but the house corporation in its sole discretion may decide to release students in certain extenuating circumstances.

Voluntary Move-Outs. The agreement is a binding contract and if a member “changes her mind” and wants to live out after she has signed an agreement, she would be in default. The agreement should be clear that in the event a member defaults by not moving into the house or by vacating the house early, the owner’s remedies would include a continuing obligation by the defaulting member to pay all amounts due under the agreement. Rarely is it possible for a replacement resident to be found after housing agreements have been signed and it is even harder mid-year so any “breakage fee” less than the whole amount due might not fully protect the owner. Because enforcing these provisions can be difficult, some organizations have elected to require a lump sum payment as a move out fee. These are generally enforceable, but as noted the likely result is that the owner will suffer economic loss.

Chapter house uninhabitable. Provide that if the chapter house becomes uninhabitable, the house corporation may use university housing or off-site housing as alternative housing; also, provide that the agreement may be terminated by the house corporation.

Member personal property (including cars). Put members on notice in the agreement itself that the house corporation does not (and cannot) insure members’ personal property on the premises (including cars in the parking lot), and that members must have their own coverage for such items. The agreement should also expressly release the chapter, the fraternity, and the local housing corporation from all liability for damage to the student’s property whatever the cause, including the negligence or the chapter, the fraternity, and the local housing corporation.

Breaks. Establish procedures for occupancy, or prohibiting occupancy, of the house for winter, spring and summer breaks.
Member release and indemnification of the house corporation. Because members are also currently insured under your policy, the release and indemnification from members need only extend to claims involving member personal property and claims not covered by your insurance.
Service Animals. Your agreement should permit their presence if both medically necessary and approved by the housing corporation. As a private club, you are not subject to the ADA legislation for the disabled, however, there may be state or local laws which apply allowing the animal. Animals that meet this area of law are dogs and miniature horses only.

Emotional Support Animals. Sometimes also referred to as therapy or assistance animals are a part of the Federal Housing Act (FHA) and can be any type of animal. Although there remains debate as to whether private clubs like a sorority chapter or local house corporation are subject to this legislation, there are stringent requirements of a landlord and this must be carefully considered.

Searches. Your agreement should permit the house corporation to search rooms at any time for any reason without prior notice or consent.
Items not permitted on the property. You should provide that members may not have the following items on the property: firearms; other weapons; illegal drugs/controlled substances; marijuana (listed separately because it is now legal under some state laws); alcohol (again, it should be separately listed because it is legal for some students under state law). Importantly, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, the house corporation may generally prohibit possession of medical marijuana and would not be required to permit its possession or use as a reasonable accommodation for disability.

Rules. A general set of rules, which can be modified from time to time, without the consent of the member or chapter, should be established. Those typically include no smoking, no candles, no roof access and no modifications of rooms.

Enforcement. Regardless of who the owner of the house is, the national fraternity and/or the national housing corporation should have the right to enforce the terms of the housing agreement. This is particularly true if the “owner” signing the agreement is the chapter.

Remedies. The agreement should give the owner, following a default, all rights and remedies at law. The agreement should also expressly say that the owner has the right to remove the student from the house following a default, but such removal does not release the student from her payment obligations. It is also helpful to have a provision which allows the owner to terminate a student’s agreement without a default if the owner determines at its sole discretion that the termination is best for chapter as a whole, but such a provision should also state that no payments should be due for the period after the student has moved out.

Sample Study Abroad/ Internship Provision ** Please note that this is just sample language and it would need to be modified to fit in the context of the applicable housing agreement.

Off campus study. If Resident is accepted into and elected to participate in a study abroad program or internship, she will be charged a $__________empty bed fee (the “Empty Bed Fee”) for the semester she is enrolled in the study abroad program, in lieu of paying the full payments due hereunder, provided that a copy of the acceptance letter related to such program is provided to the Chapter no later than __ months in advance. If Resident is required by the University to student teach, or engage in similar educational opportunities required by the University for her course of study, at a location 50 miles or further from the Chapter House, and provides notice within the time period set forth above, she may, in any such case, petition the Chapter for relief from the Empty Bed Fee. The Chapter House’s decision relating to relief from the Empty Bed Fee shall be at its sole discretion and shall be binding on Resident. As all situations are unique, prior determinations of the Chapter shall in no way bind or affect its determination with regard to Resident’s petition. If Resident is studying abroad or has accepted an internship and has located another member of the Chapter who is not living in the Chapter House and is willing to replace Resident as an occupant of the Chapter House, the Empty Bed Fee will be not be charged. Resident may only receive one exception during her tenure as a member of Chapter.

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Here is the more printer-friendly PDF version.

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Should you wish to use a waiver to attempt to release your organization from COVID-19 related claims, our in-house attorney created this template for MJ Sorority clients’ use. For more information on our position on waivers, please refer to our position paper.

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The original “Letter to Member’s Parents” that we created for our clients as a template for their use addresses the ways in which the insurance program works in hopes of preempting risk management and insurance questions from members and their parents before those questions arise.

However, we believe that there will likely be additional questions our clients face this year with regard to the various Covid-19 policies and safety measures put in place, which likely vary from campus to campus. We have offered some additional verbiage regarding Covid-19 to our existing template. We encourage you to modify our verbiage as necessary and incorporate your own specific measures that your organization and location will be adopting.

Please feel free to use this template and edit it as you see fit. You will notice [bracketed] sections where we encourage you to insert your organization and/or chapter name to make it specific to your needs.

Should you have any questions, as always, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Re: [Sorority’s] National Insurance Program

To The Parents of [Chapter Member’s Name]:

The Independent Insurance Agents of America estimate that 100,000 property claims occur on college campuses annually. In addition, today’s students are bringing more and more expensive items to school with them than ever before. For that reason, we believe that it is our responsibility to communicate to the chapter members and their parents the specifics of the Fraternity’s insurance coverage.

Property Coverage

Each House Corporation/Chapter has a contract with the resident members that define the relationship and obligation of both parties to the arrangement. The agreement explicitly states that the House Corporation/Chapter is not responsible for any loss or damage to a resident member’s personal property, including their personal automobiles. Similarly to any other rental arrangement, the resident is responsible for insuring their own personal property, either via their parent’s homeowners policy or via a renters’ policy. The property coverage that the organization purchases covers the Fraternity’s property, such as the furniture and kitchen equipment at the chapter house, for example.

Parent’s homeowners policy

It is the responsibility of the resident member to make sure that their personal property is protected while living in the chapter house. Many chapter members’ property would still be covered under their parent’s homeowners policy; however, we recommend that chapter members and their families verify their homeowners policy extend to cover a student’s personal property while away at college.

We have reviewed the industry-standard insurance language for homeowners policies, in hopes of providing resident members with the information necessary to ensure that their personal property is adequately protected. The standard homeowners policy language defines an insured as:

  • A student in school full time, as defined by the school, who was a resident of your household before moving out to attend school, provided the student is under the age of:
  • 24 and your relative; or
  • 21 and in your care or the care of a person described above (there have been a number of states that have enacted legislation that extends the age limit beyond 21 years, so be sure to verify the age limit in your insurance policy language)

Most resident members would fit into one or both of the definitions above, but there are further issues to consider to ensure your personal property is protected:

  • College students are typically covered for ten percent of the contents limit under their parent’s homeowners policy. If your personal property is valued at or above the ten percent limit under your policy, you should speak with your insurance agent about increasing that limit.
  • Under the standard homeowners policy, the contents coverage only provides named perils coverage, which means that losses would be covered only if they arise from causes of loss listed in the policy. A laptop that was damaged from power surge or from being dropped, for example, would likely not be covered under a named perils policy. We recommend that you verify with your insurance agent that the policy provides all-risk coverage.
  • If a student chooses to declare independent status, perhaps for loan purposes, they would likely not be covered under their parent’s homeowners policy.

Renter’s insurance

If you would prefer not to rely on your homeowners insurance or you do not have access to homeowners insurance for whatever reason, we highly encourage you or your daughter to purchase renter’s insurance, which will cover her personal property and is very affordable. For example, National Student Services, Inc. <>, the nationwide leader in college student property insurance, offers $10,000 worth of coverage with a $50 deductible for about $250 in annual premium. If you or your daughter purchases a renter’s policy, we recommend that you confirm that the following perils are covered: theft, fire, flood, and wind. In addition, some of the most common causes of loss to a laptop include drops and damage from liquids being spilled into the laptop, so it is important to verify whether or not those types of claims would be covered.

Liability Coverage

Your daughter’s organization has purchased the broadest coverage possible to protect your daughter should she be named in a lawsuit due to her affiliation with [sorority name], so long as she is following the guidelines of the organization. The liability insurance is third-party coverage, meaning that it protects the insureds (the Sorority/Fraternity, House Corporation, Chapter, Members, Volunteers, etc.) should they be named in a lawsuit from a third-party.

The organization’s liability insurance does not cover personal injury to your daughter, in much the same way that your homeowners policy does not provide medical coverage for members of your household. If you daughter is injured at the chapter house or at a chapter event, she will need to rely on her (or your) personal medical policy. This is also spelled out in the membership and housing agreements that she has signed.

Automobile insurance

If your daughter takes her car to school, your automobile policy will continue to cover her personal automobile while she is away at school. If she does not take a car with her to school, you will want to ensure that she is still listed as a driver under your automobile policy, if she plans to drive any automobile while away at school. Several insurance companies offer “student away at school” discounts for this types of coverage, so be sure to check with your insurance agent before she leaves for college.

If your daughter drives her personal automobile on sorority business and is involved in an accident, she will not be covered by [sorority’s name] automobile liability policy. The organization’s automobile liability policy exists to protect the organization if it is named in a lawsuit involving an automobile, not individuals. For more information about the automobile coverage, please refer to the Digging Deeper: Non-Owned Automobile document on MJ’s website.

For many chapter members, college is the first opportunity for them to live on their own away from home. It is important that chapter members and their families take the necessary steps to ensure that their personal property, which can often be very expensive, is financially protected via insurance. If you are interested in studying the organization’s insurance program further, we recommend you review the expansive Insurance Summary on MJ’s website. We realize that this can be a confusing issue, so please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.


As we enter the second full pandemic academic year, families continue to reviewing what the future school year will look like for their daughter both from the university and sorority membership standpoint. We can only imagine how difficult it has been navigating these complex decisions. 

There is no debate that all students on campus will be expected to continue to follow the rules that universities and fraternal organizations put in place to ensure the health and safety of the students, faculty, and community. It also goes without saying that the sorority officers of the chapter will have more responsibility to help lead this effort. With increased responsibilities comes greater liability to act as a “reasonable and prudent person” would do in a similar situation. 

We acknowledge your concern over your daughter taking a leadership role in her sorority and would offer that the other risks on a college campus of underage drinking, sexual harassment and assault, hazing, and general social behavior of its members is equal to, if not more problematic, than potential liability due to an individual becoming infected with the virus. 

There will be some elements that we believe will minimize this exposure, such as difficulty in contact tracking/tracing and the extra measures that the sorority chapter operations and the chapter property management has put in place to ensure a clean and safe property. 

If your daughter is a chapter officer, she has been, pre-Covid-19 and now, covered as an additional insured to the [Sorority’s] national insurance policy, and we remain confident that your daughter would see her organization’s policy step up to defend her should she be named in a lawsuit and pay for a judgement should she be found negligible in her duties as an officer. You can be confident in the comprehensive national insurance policy that your daughter’s organization has secured for their exposures to risk.


Sara Sterley

Sara Sterley
Director of Risk Management Education
MJ Sorority

Other helpful resources:

  • Insurance Basics for Member’s Parents Webinar: We have created a self-guided presentation that explains how the organization’s insurance program works, as well as provides some helpful hints regarding homeowners or renter’s insurance coverage.
  • Insurance and Risk Management Summary: An expansive explanation of the organization’s insurance program in straightforward and accessible language.
  • A one-stop resource for all things related to risk management and insurance issues from the leader in women’s fraternity and sorority risk management needs. For our numerous Covid-19 resources, please check out our expansive Covid-19 Response Resource Center.

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