By Pamela Alton
One day, as you are making your rounds at your facility, you notice a broken lamp with no shade sitting beside your dumpster. Within 15 minutes, there also appears an old dresser with one drawer missing. By the end of the day, there is an old, stained mattress, a cat-clawed sofa, a coffee table with three legs and several boxes. Does this sound familiar? It almost seems that once one item is left by the dumpster, it breeds and multiplies.
You ask yourself: Is this a storage facility or the city dump? Many tenants think you are the latter. This sort of thing happens all too often at our facilities. How can you protect yourself from this?
There are several things that you, as the facility manager, can do to keep this occurrence at a minimum. First of all, avoid offering those $1 move-in specials that some of the "big guys" offer. I don't know about you, but I think $1 is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying the $15 or higher fee for taking a truck-load of junk to your city dump. Tenants realize this, too.
Next, you should have concise rules and regulations regarding what happens if a tenant leaves items behind. What will be the fine for leaving a unit dirty, or items in the hallway, on the driveway or around the dumpster? Will you even allow your vacating or current tenants to use the dumpster for their personal use? I look down all the dumpsters at my facilities--they are for the management's use only. On our rules-and-regulations sheet we clearly state that the dumpsters are for our use and that there will be a $50 fee for use of the dumpster. Make it perfectly clear that any and all items stored should be taken when vacating the unit.
One of your job duties as the manager should be to actually walk vacating tenants out to their unit and check that they have removed all items and left the unit in the same clean condition as when they rented it. Let them know that if they leave items behind, you cannot remove their names from the computer, and rent will continue to accrue until the items are removed. If you find tenants have vacated after office hours, call to tell them the same thing--it certainly can't hurt. You would be surprised how many vacating tenants actually return and remove the items rather than pay the additional fees. Let tenants know that any balance due and not paid will be turned over to collections (even though you probably would not do that).
Post signs in your hallways or the inside of interior-hallway doors stating your rules regarding leaving items behind. Conducting regular walk-throughs of your facility will alert you to tenants vacating. Stop, ask if they are vacating and, if so, tell them to be sure to take all items with them and stop by the office to sign the vacate notice so you can remove them from your database. Be sure to immediately remove any items found in hallways, driveways and the dumpster. This will help eliminate any "breeding" and multiplying of other items.
Some of you are thinking, "Well, why don't we just take a cleaning or security deposit?" You could. That is one thing that might deter the tenant from leaving items behind; however, deposits can be a bookkeeper's nightmare. Most of the time, when the tenant has moved, the address is no good and the deposit checks end up being returned. Added move-in cost at the time of the rental should also be taken into consideration. If you are taking deposits and your competitors are not, it might cause a prospective tenant to rent elsewhere.
Being aware of what your tenants are storing and having them sign a rules-and-regulations sheet explaining what happens if they leave junk behind in their units could help. Conduct regular walk-throughs of your facility and have the vacating tenants come to the office and sign out. Escort the tenant to the unit to make sure they take everything they stored with them. These are just a few of the things that might ensure that your storage facility won't become the "other" city dump.
P.S. Thanks to Chris at Shurgard for asking me to write on the subject of "tenant junk."
Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management®, a nationwide manager-placement service. Mini-Management also offers full-service and "operations-only" facility management, training manuals, inspections and audits, feasibility studies, consulting and training seminars. For more information, call (800) 646-4648.