Maintaining a Safe Self-Storage Business: Practices for Protecting Tenants and Staff
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Linnea Appleby
Posted on: 05/23/2012



 

Managing a self-storage facility is more than operating the office and keeping the place clean. Maintaining a successful business requires creating a safe and hazard-free environment for tenants and staff. Neglect will quickly diminish the value of an otherwise viable facility. On the other hand, a facility that’s cared for and appropriately maintained will enjoy greater rental rates, a higher occupancy, happier tenants and a longer life span.

When a property is in good working condition, tenants are less likely to complain about rent increases because they can see the benefit of their dollars at work. Here are some strategies operators can use to be smart and safe, and keep equipment in good working order.

Repair or replace faulty equipment quickly. This includes cameras, gates, door closers, lights and switches, locking mechanisms, unit doors, and other items that break down. If tenants see a light bulb has been out for months or a door closer has been broken since they moved in, it devalues their opinion of your site, making them less likely to refer new business to you. They also may use it as a complaint during rent increases. Handle small maintenance items quickly before they become larger.

Lock up equipment. Keep electrical outlets, thermostats, breaker boxes, water spigots and other facility equipment covered and locked to avoid unauthorized use or potential vandalism. Keep company units closed and locked at all times and don’t leave keys, locks or other company items on the golf cart.
Check elevators and HVAC units. Make it a regularly scheduled task to ensure the phone or emergency contact system in the elevators is working properly and access to fire panels, HVAC units and other important equipment are clear of debris. Don’t use HVAC, elevator or electrical rooms to store company items like documents and decorations. This equipment requires proper ventilation. Without it, failure can occur and it becomes a potential fire hazard.

Keep Tenants Safe

In addition to keeping the property in working order, you must also keep your tenants safe when they’re accessing their units. Here are two important factors:

  • Door maintenance. Identify and fix unit doors that stick, have bad springs, hasps that don’t close properly, missing pull ropes or rubber bottom strips that have failed. Hasps, ropes and other door components don’t have the same life span as the door itself. Unit doors are your inventory. Keep them in good repair at all times. Handle a tenant complaint about a door quickly to avoid injury or accidents.
  • Check the emergency exits. Are they appropriately marked and alarmed? Ensure that the landscaping has not overgrown the outside so it’s clear if it needs to be used. If the alarm is monitored, do a test with the monitoring company on a regular basis.

Keep Yourself Safe

Like any business, self-storage facilities can be susceptible to theft. As most self-storage managers are alone on the property for hours at a time, personal safety measures are a must. Managers should:

  • Be smart about money handling. Don’t count the cash drawer with tenants in the office. Lock the doors before you do your daily close. Be aware of your surroundings as you enter or leave the facility.
  • Know emergency procedures. When the place is on fire, there won’t be time to read the manual. Know the proper emergency steps before they’re needed. When things are going bad, they tend to go bad quickly. Don’t hesitate to call 911. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Be smart about showing units. If you’re uncomfortable with a potential customer, ask for a driver's license and leave it in the office when you show the unit. Pick up the phone and call your supervisor or another property manager and say, “I am going to show a unit, I’ll call you back when I am done.” This alerts the customer that someone will be expecting a call back shortly.

Know Your Vulnerable Points

There are many areas in a facility that are off the beaten path of everyday management, so it’s important to take a detour occasionally to check these areas and ensure all is well. These include places like stairwells, blind corners and building recesses. Can your facility’s cameras be adjusted or can more be added to cover areas such as the dumpster or other vulnerable points of the property? Another idea is to add fencing, barbed wire or even thorny bushes if there are points that may be easily accessible to thieves or vandals. Stairwells should be clean and free from debris.

Operators should walk the exterior of the facility occasionally to look for signs of vandalism, graffiti, landscaping or building issues that may not be visible from within the property. Remove graffiti immediately. Consider calling the police to report graffiti incidents as it may indicate gang activity.
Do you have areas that are more slippery when it rains or ice up quickly when it is cold? Make sure you have the proper tools on hand to address those areas and post warnings to tenants. Use caution signage or tape to reduce accidents.

Keep trees trimmed, gutters clean and stay on the lookout for rodent or pest infestations. Contact a quality pest-control company to handle these issues quickly before they become a larger issue.

It Takes a Village

Set your expectations with tenants clearly at the rental. Let them know the basic rules of the facility and that you’re approachable at any time if they need anything or see something questionable. Let them know you want to know if something seems amiss. Request that they be an extra set of eyes and ears for you. When tenants know you’re striving to keep a safe and clean environment for everyone, they’re more inclined to help out. Let them know they’re part of the site community.

Operators should always be visible on site and talk to tenants and guests at every opportunity. Make it a point to be around when tenants are on site to say "hello" and ask if everything is OK with their unit. Whales do a maneuver called a “spy hop” where they pop their heads out of the water to survey their surroundings. Site managers should do the same thing. Peek in their unit to see what they’re storing. If you see something that shouldn’t be there, ask them to take it with them when they leave.

Things like paint cans, propane tanks, oxygen tanks and fireworks can be hazardous. Explain this is for the safety of everyone because you never know what’s in the unit on either side of theirs. Be friendly but firm and avoid a scolding tone. You want them on your side.

Facilities should also have effective signage, but don’t clutter the place. Instead, place the appropriate signage where needed and leave it at that. Try to eliminate negative statements whenever possible. A sign stating, “This is a smoke-free facility” makes the point just as well as “No smoking” but in a friendlier tone.
If you see something suspicious, question it. Be on the lookout for people who access the gate at odd hours or stay for a long time without visible storage activity. They might be living in the unit. If someone is in his unit with the door rolled down, let him know he must keep the door open while inside. A closed door is a potential fire hazard and the tenant may get locked in the unit by accident. Let people know you’re looking out for their safety.

If you suspect something illegal or potentially dangerous, make sure you don’t approach the situation alone. Talk to your supervisor to get a fresh perspective and advice on how to handle it. Never put yourself in harm’s way.

Tenants will emulate your behavior. If you smoke on the property, your tenants will, too, and you’ll be cleaning up cigarette butts constantly. If tenants see you picking up trash, pulling weeds and cleaning up, they’ll be less inclined to leave their empty fast-food wrappers  lying about. Clean up messes quickly.

Tenants will respect that you take pride in your facility. These are only a few ways to keep yourself, your tenants and your facility safe. Every facility has unique circumstances that come into play when eliminating hazards. Take some time to evaluate your facility to determine what you can do today to maintain a hazard-free zone for all.

Linnea Appleby is the owner of Lime Tree Management, a self-storage management and consulting firm in Sarasota, Fla. She has been in the storage industry since 1998, and is a frequent contributor and speaker to Inside Self-Storage magazine and expo. She can be reached at 941.350.7859; e-mail lappleby@limetreemanagement.com.