Guarding Against Self-Storage Perils: Facility Managers Deter Crime and Ensure Personal Safety
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By:
Posted on: 05/16/2013



 

Operating a self-storage facility shouldn't be a perilous job, but it can involve certain dangers, particularly if you live on site. Every operator faces the potential of crime including break-ins, vandalism and illegal activity on behalf of tenants. There's even the possibility of experiencing a robbery, which seems to be a more common occurrence in the industry.

Strangely, in this age where most customers pay with debit and credit cards, storage facilities still keep petty cash on the property; and in some markets, they cater to a tenant base that's largely cash and carry. This can entice a criminal element who understands that storage-management offices are generally low-traffic venues with very little staff. It's easy for a robber to enter the property and pose as a customer until he sees his window of opportunity. Here's just a sampling of crimes reported on insideselfstorage.com in recent years:

  • In February, a man threatened a self-storage employee in Oklahoma City, Okla., and made off with an unknown amount of cash. Although he did not produce a weapon, the manager told police she was afraid the man might hurt her.
  • Last August an armed robber held up a facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, escaping with an employee’s purse.
  • In March 2012, at least six suspects held a self-storage security guard at gunpoint in Brooklyn while stealing from storage units.
  • The owner of a self-storage facility in Columbia, Calif., was robbed at gunpoint in June 2011. A man walked into the office around noon and demanded money. Later that month, an operator in Brockton, Mass., was also robbed at gunpoint.

The worst case occurred in October 2011 when an 84-year-old self-storage manager died after being wounded during a robbery. The Seattle manager was confronted by two men and stabbed in the neck. One of the perpetrators was apprehended and shot by police the next day while shopping with the victim's credit cards.

It doesn't take being robbed to feel unsafe on your property. Sometimes a tenant or a guest makes you uncomfortable. Other times there's crime occurring in the area around the self-storage facility. Inside Self-Storage recently asked facility operators on the Self-Storage Talk online community about the No. 1 crime deterrents on their properties. Respondents also discussed situations in which they felt in danger and what they did about it.

What do you believe is the No. 1 crime deterrent at your facility and why?

Unfortunately, the greatest crime deterrent at this facility is me. I am a resident manager, and that is about the only deterrent to crime we have. The camera system is one from Costco that I installed at my employer's insistence. It is not high-resolution, will not record, and only covers the main-entrance doors and gates. I do keep all vacant units locked and insist that customers do the same. Luckily the local police and fire department make frequent patrols, and I encourage them to use the facility for training purposes.
~Senior Member FHARumRunner

After a rash of break-ins about two years ago, our regional manager and the store manager posted on the roof for several nights straight with shotguns. Around these parts, we still believe in the Second Amendment. That being a true story, the rest of our stores rely on a quality system of CCTV cameras that are backed up to a DVR.
~Senior Member Advantage IT

It differs from location to location for me. At one site, it is cameras. I am still expanding the system, but since the very first one went up, no more problems. I can catch people dumping and leaving stuff, too—added bonus.

At another location, I have a guy that lives on site in an RV in the outdoor storage area. This has been very effective at a site where it was not really feasible to add cameras. Another benefit is that we pretty much all have carry [gun] permits (family-run business, not something I would encourage a hired employee to do necessarily), but we have never needed to go to that extent.
~Senior Member RandyL

Cameras, gate codes, security patrols and us.
~Senior Member Billings Storage

I tell all new tenants that they must be off the property by 7:30 [p.m.] because that is when we release the hounds ... and it's (almost) true. My maintenance man, a former prison guard who happens to be a very large guy, walks the property every night along with his two big dogs. Cameras and gate codes seem to help as well.
~Senior Member geraldine1051

Combination of visible cameras, night lighting, camera monitor very visible to customers in the office, and letting everyone know I have the cameras recorded and monitored via the Internet anywhere in the world. The big camera housings are very impressive looking, but the cameras are kinda old and not very good. But they [criminals] don't know that! The big signs on the gates that say "K-9 Drug Dogs Trained Here" have actually cost us a couple of rentals over the years also.
~Senior Member dennybeall

At my last facility, we had cameras, perimeter alarms, coded gates, block walls and great lighting. But the best was the fact that they all knew that we lived right there and were always watching everything! Cameras are fine, after the fact. Alarms, gates and walls will keep the honest people out. Good lighting and knowing that someone is there watching will convince most of the bad guys to move on to the other guy's place!
~Moderator Autodoc

My experience is that the best crime deterrent is my tenants. I tell customers that if they see things that don't seem right to dial 911. (My first wife was an Italian, so I learned how to say "I am sorry" very quickly. If the law is called in error, I will fix it.)
~Moderator astro

Word has gotten around about the "crazy little old lady" that packs heat! I'm not that scary looking, but I do keep my sweet .38 with me, and it has definitely been useful! Our cameras and individually alarmed units help, too! I'm sure my twisted, sarcastic sense of humor makes people wonder!
~Senior Member Rebee

Have you ever felt unsafe at work? If so, why did you feel that way and what did you do about it?

While working in this industry, I have encountered a broad spectrum of humanity, most of whom are decent. But occasionally you get to interact with the type that are either existing in a world of drugs or mental illness that make you uncomfortable. I seldom have a problem dealing with these types because of my past, but when they fail to respond to "reason," I merely summon the local police force to remove them from the property.
~Senior Member FHARumRunner

I have felt unsafe at work a couple of times. Both times had to do with irate tenants who actually threatened me personally as well as my business. Both times I called 911 and the cops were here in a moment. One of the guys was taken in the patrol car to jail, and the other was gone by the time the cops arrived. It's unfortunate to have to resort to calling the cops, but it is creepy that people feel the only way they can get a point across, or whatever, is to make a threat. Good grief.
~Senior Member geraldine1051

We have a tenant at one of our facilities who is always inebriated when he comes. As the facility is run by women (usually one at a time) with a maintenance man once a week, he makes us all a little uncomfortable. Fortunately, he doesn't live near the facility and usually mails his payments. When we see him pull in, however, we are sure that we have the pepper spray within quick reach.

The site manager at the same facility was recently threatened by a tenant we auctioned after giving her multiple opportunities to pay and avoid sale, but she left when she realized the manager was calling the police. It's a small town, so the police can usually respond pretty quickly if needed. I believe they also have a free unit and a gate code, just in case they feel like breezing through to check things out.
~Member hnelson310

I have never felt unsafe at my place. So far, so good. It's a little creepy when I come at night, but the most fear I have then is maybe of a snake!
~Senior Member LauraGVAZ

At the property we managed previously, there was reason for fear all the time. The property was in a bad neighborhood that all around us was crime of all sorts.

We were awakened in the middle of the night once with the police helicopter flying low over the property and shining their lights up and down the driveways. We could hear the police and their dogs just outside our bedroom window. My husband did not go out of the apartment until we called 911 to let them know he was coming out and who he was. Long story short, there was a break-in at one of the homes behind the property and the owner shot the person. The police were following a "blood trail" that came into our property as well as exited. Thankfully there was nobody on the property and we were all safe.
~Junior Member Evergreen-ClaremontSS

Our facility here mostly deals with customers that pay with cash because they can't afford credit cards. A number of co-workers say that they are afraid of some of the people that come in, but I grew up in this town and don't fear at all. I have come to the conclusion that if you treat them with respect, you get respect. A lot of the times, if you give it first and they get nasty with you, you can instantly say, "Can I ask for some respect?" They may look at you funny, and if they decline, then you can politely say, "I have respected you since you walked through the door. I would ask the same from a nice person like yourself." Works like a charm.

We also have given local law enforcement a gate code, and they do a drive through once a week at odd hours.
~Senior Member LockItUpOgden

I have felt unsafe at my previous location. The facility was in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood as far as crime statistics go, but the only time I ever felt afraid was when an unhappy tenant started to threaten my manager and the owner. A little bit of research with the local police proved we had reason to feel threatened; they were quite familiar with him from previous incidents.

This tenant was always nice enough to me. He reserved his vitriol for the higher-ups, but the situation was tense enough that we kept pepper spray behind the desk for a few weeks, and called in unofficial back up manpower (read: tough guys) when we held an auction and were concerned this person might show up and act out. Nothing ever came of it except a lot of hot air, but we were all glad we were prepared.
~Junior Member mosey330

Our two storage facilities are located in a small rural community in central Wyoming. I've worked here for two-and-a-half-years now, and I have never once had an incident where I feared for my safety. I came to the self-storage industry after 20 years in counseling. I have found that the knowledge I have about people has informed my current work tremendously ... However, with that said, we have still had angry customers and customers who appeared to be under the influence of something.

In those times, I am careful to listen more than I speak, so as to ensure the customer is feeling like they are being heard. I am also mindful of the design of the interior of the office. There is nothing within four feet of any customer that they could use as a weapon. I keep the phone right by my hand in case I have to dial 911. And finally, Wyoming is very supportive of the Second Amendment (and so are the owners), which means I carry a concealed handgun every day. Our desk is a very large built-in affair, and it would take someone very determined to get over it and to myself or my co-worker. In that time, I am certain that I could take steps to persuade them to re-think their intentions.

Truth be told, in my time here, I've only had two truly negative experiences with customers: one angry guy (who became angry because he was caught in a lie), and one angry woman (who became angry because of her own irresponsibility—it cost her more money due to late fees, and that was my fault). Once a person reaches a point of being SO angry, efforts to rationalize or explain go out the window. In those times, it's best to stop trying and ask the person to leave. If they refuse, then assertive action of calling 911 is made, with no warning or pleading with the customer.

But as another person noted, most of our customers are simply good people who conduct themselves with maturity, so they receive nothing but respect and courteous behavior from us!
~Senior Member Jim1970

I'd love to carry a firearm, but for now I settle with a nasty, large, snap-on box cutter strapped to my side, my phone, and wasp spray strategically placed around the office and on my utility cart when I'm on the lot. The phone in my pocket goes without saying. I've only thought I might have to use one a few times in my 20-plus years, but people seem to be getting crazier and bolder than ever. I'm keepin' my head on a swivel over here!
~Junior Member Trudy D

Once or twice working in self-storage I've been concerned enough to take protective actions. Once about eight minutes after their unit had been auctioned when a group of young men came striding toward the office waving money, and also when I encountered a group of guys out behind one of our buildings. But a 9mm, three knives and pepper spray are always at hand, so I wasn't afraid, just concerned.
~Senior Member dennybeall