|Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.|
|By: D. Carlos Kaslow|
|Posted on: 03/01/2002|
The discovery of hazardous materials in a self-storage unit raises the prospect of nightmarish consequences for the facility owner. The nightmare begins with the discovery of the toxic material, and the level of fear rises if the tenant who placed the illegal property in the space cannot be located.
Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act and similar state laws, the facility operator is strictly liable for the cost of the removal and legal disposal of the hazardous materials if the tenant cannot be found or cannot pay the disposal costs. This rule may not seem fair, but it is the law. Storage operators should operate their facilities with this potential exposure in mind.
Not only does the law unfairly penalize innocent landowners, but if hazardous materials are discovered, few storage operators have insurance to cover the costs of removing them. Standard property and liability package policies exclude hazardous-material-cleanup claims. Some of the self-storage specialty insurers have endorsements that cover this risk, but few storage operators carry this coverage. The cost of rectifying even a minor hazardous-materials incident can be several thousand dollars, and the removal and disposal of more dangerous chemicals can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Failure to deal with a problem when it is discovered can lead to hefty fines and even criminal prosecution.
So how do you protect your facility from becoming a toxic-waste dump site? Obviously, the best approach is prevention. There is no perfect system that can be adopted to prevent tenants from storing illegal materials at your facility, but there are some simple things you can do that will reduce the risks:
While following these suggestions can have a deterrent effect, some storage operators take even more aggressive measures. One tactic is to photograph all tenants upon the execution of the rental agreement. Many facilities get a thumbprint from all new tenants. Such measures may not only discourage potential toxic dumpers from renting a unit at your facility, but also customers considering renting space for other illegal reasons.
There is no perfect system for preventing a self-storage space from becoming a depository for hazardous materials. However, you can reduce the odds your facility will be chosen by toxic dumpers. Dumping toxic materials in a self-storage facility is a crime and, like most criminals, dumpers want to remain anonymous. If they believe you know who they are and are watching what they are doing, they may look for an easier site to practice their illegal trade.
D. Carlos Kaslow is an attorney in Berkeley, Calif., and is the founding partner of the Self Storage Legal Network and author of the Self Storage Legal Review, a bimonthly newsletter covering self-storage legal issues. He is also general counsel for the national Self Storage Association. For more information, visit www.selfstorage.org.