Barring the Way: Low-Cost Strategies for Deterring Crime at Self-Storage Facilities
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: John Carlisle
Posted on: 05/21/2012


To paraphrase the band Inner Circle, whose song “Bad Boys” plays before every episode of the TV reality show “Cops”: Do you know what you’re gonna do when they come for you or your tenants’ stuff? Sadly, the question is often “when,” not “if” they'll come. Even the most well-lit, well-guarded self-storage facilities in the safest areas face at least a rare attempted theft. This can even include a delinquent tenant determined to break into an overlocked unit before it goes to auction. In addition, the reality TV show “Storage Wars” has caused much of the public to think all storage units contain treasure chests full of valuable items.

Theft isn’t the only concern, though. Drug and gun traffickers have attempted—and sometimes succeeded—in storing sizable amounts of contraband in units for extended periods of time. Since 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FBI have put self-storage facilities on alert that terrorist cells might look to put dangerous and deadly equipment in rental units. It’s not unheard of for prostitutes, forgers and other nefarious “entrepreneurs” to rent a unit and call it home base.

Prevention Is Priority No. 1

The myriad criminal possibilities make prevention one of the most important roles of self-storage managers, whether they live onsite or commute. Through cameras, gates and keypads, lighting, and literally, the bells and whistles of alarms, numerous security technology products exist. But keeping the facility and its stored items safe starts with savvy managers trusting their gut instincts and using good old-fashioned common sense. Thankfully, easy-to-execute, low-tech and cheap methods will prevent crime and deter criminals from joining your tenant roster.

Several managers weighed in with their opinions on the most effective crime-fighting methods on Self-Storage Talk (SST), the industry's largest online community. Here’s some of their best pointers.

No. 1: Thoroughly screen new tenants. Though a criminal background check is probably a bit much, a good once-over and informal “interview” of your new tenants is a good way to get a feel for what they’re like. Though some managers may feel desperate for new business, what good is it to rent to someone who’s looking to store illegal goods, conduct illegal activities, or will likely go into delinquency anyway? Even if you end up leasing a unit, getting a first impression from a tenant is important in knowing who needs to be watched closely.

No. 2: Ask tenants to report suspicious activity. Your tenants have the biggest vested interest in making sure their stuff stays safe. They’re on the property during all accessible hours. Tell them they’re the first line of defense, and give them an easy way to report suspicious behavior, whether that’s encouraging them to call the police directly or giving them an after-hours contact phone number. On that note, it certainly helps to have law enforcement as tenants.

No. 3: Find trustworthy business tenants and tell them they can work onsite. One SST member has a tenant who repairs broken televisions. He allows the tenant to work at the facility in his unit, which adds another pair of eyes. Remember, however, that all liability still resides with the facility and its paid employees.

No. 4: Get out of the office several times a day. Most managers have access to some kind of vehicle to drive around the property. They should make use of it several times a day. When tenants are accessing units, it never hurts to say hello and chat, not just to see what they’re up to but to look at who else is on the property and what they’re doing.

No. 5: Maintain your property’s exterior. As infuriating as it is for a cadre of teenagers or homeless people to have a drinking party outside the exterior fence and leave a mess, it must be promptly cleaned up. If crushed beer cans and debris litter the edge of the property, not only will you lose business, you’ll also send a message that such behavior is tolerated. This goes for inside the facility as well. Also, keep your dumpster locked so tenants can’t use it.

No. 6: Allow law enforcement to train on your facility grounds. Then let your tenants know about it by posting signs around the property. Any smart drug-runner won’t store where his “goods” may be discovered by an inquisitive police dog.

No 7: Lock all empty units. In addition, encourage your tenants to opt for disc and cylinder locks over padlocks. You can even require tenants to lock units with facility-issued locks. The only potential problem arises if the facility uses a kiosk to rent space after hours without an employee present. In these instances, numbered, trackable cargo seals or high-tech digital keypads on unit doors may be a solution.

Certification and Consultant Opportunities

The above strategies involve the manager and are little- to no-cost preventive measures. However, there are various certification and training opportunities in some communities in which operators can beef up their crime-prevention know-how.

One such program is offered by the International Crime Free Association, a nonprofit started by a law-enforcement officer to help rental properties protect themselves and their tenants. Crime Free Self Storage includes a half-day in-person training for the manager and an onsite facility security audit from a law enforcement officer. (For more information, visit

Once the facility operator has completed these steps and agrees to grant 24-hour access to the local police department, the facility will receive large signs and locks displaying its involvement in the program. The organization also offers the program “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design,” a way to maximize a facility’s existing layout to make it tougher for criminal activity to occur and mitigate any potential trouble spots.

Though the old saying, “If someone wants something bad enough, they’ll find away to get it” is hard to dispute, being prepared for crime can go a long way in keeping criminals from succeeding, or at least encouraging them to skip your facility. Make your operation support another old saying, “Crime doesn't pay.”

Looking for more  pointers or want to add to the list? Visit and look for the thread, “Preventing Crime: Cheap and Easy Ideas,” in the Day-to-Day Management forum. You must be a registered member to post, but it’s free and can be done by clicking "Register" in the top navigation bar.