As I write this column, I have just completed my eigth airplane trip since our national tragedy on Sept. 11. At the end of my flight from San Diego to Philadelphia, a flight attendant got on the public-address system and sang "God Bless America." The applause from the 50-plus passengers seemed to mirror the feelings of the entire country. We are blessed to live in the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave."
While participating in the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 20-22, I realized how difficult it was for everyone in attendance to return to our country's new definition of "normal." It was wonderful to see and talk to friends from across the nation and discuss the challenges we face as an industry as well as a country. Make no mistake--our industry will not be exempt from changes in our customers' (current and potential) focus of attention. Nor will we be exempt from the impact of the loss of millions of jobs.
I realize you will be reading this column weeks after it has been written and so much will have transpired. We all need to rethink how we run our businesses. New priorities have come into play, as many of our business and personal concerns from before September seem trivial from our new vantage point. No one is immune from this unspeakable tragedy. Not one of our co-workers or customers has been left untouched, and no one should be left to become an island of self-doubt and fear unto himself. I urge everyone to reach out, to take that extra moment to support one another.
Soldiers & Sailors Relief Act
There is a debate among lawyers about whether the provisions of the Soldiers & Sailors Relief Act (Authority, Title 50, Appendix, United States Code, Sections 501-593) apply to the self-storage industry. This law, initially enacted in 1918 and revised in 1940, provides some relief for persons on active military duty. The stated purpose of the Act is:
Sec. 510. Suspension of enforcement of civil liabilities: In order to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense under the emergent conditions which are threatening the peace and security of the United States and to enable the United States the more successfully to fulfill the requirements of the national defense, provision is made to suspend enforcement of civil liabilities, in certain cases, of persons in the military service of the United States in order to enable such persons to devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation, and to this end the following provisions are made for the temporary suspension of legal proceedings and transactions which may prejudice the civil rights of persons in such service during the period herein specified over which this Act (sections 501 to 593 of this Appendix) remains in force.
I have spoken with two lawyers from different parts of the country and received varying responses as to whether the provisions of this act supersede the provisions of the lien laws at the state level. I urge everyone to create and put into effect a "Home-Land Security Self-Storage Provision" for managers to follow.
In my mind, the terms of this provision should be very simple. It should state that, as self-storage owners, we will not attempt to sell at lien sale the contents of any unit currently occupied by a member of the armed forces that is or becomes delinquent. I would hope we will waive any and all late fees and be willing to work with those active military customers to assist them in any method possible with the storage of their belongings. I see no difference during this time of national emergency between service people who have been deployed overseas or those who are working here in the United States. It would be a small price to pay for our industry to step up to the plate and let our men and women in uniform know they can count on us to keep their possessions safe while they are sacrificing to keep America and the world safe. Please think about this idea in the conduct of your day-to-day business operations.
You cannot watch a TV newscast, pick up a magazine or read a newspaper and not encounter the word "security." I sincerely believe this places a burden and opportunity on each of us as owners and managers. We need to make sure our customers and potential customers know the steps we have taken to make our stores and their belongings safe.
I know full well we have been cautioned for years by the legal community about the claims we make verbally and in our advertising about security. Now that times have changed, our customers should understand our video-surveillance policy, our strict enforcement regarding tailgating through the access gate, the limitation of access to only those individuals listed on occupancy agreements, and the need to get proper identification from everyone renting a unit. Many of you are doing this already, but I remind those who have these items slide in their operations that they need to pay attention to these issues. People are going to be examining every aspect of their lives in the months ahead and personal security will be very high on their lists. Let's make sure we are taking advantage of the investment we have all made in our security systems.
As the nation and the world look toward the upcoming holiday season, I pray the God of your prayers blesses you, your family, our country and the world in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Jim Chiswell is the president of Chiswell & Associates. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence, expert testimony and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to contributing regularly to Inside Self-Storage, Mr. Chiswell is a frequent speaker at Inside Self-Storage Expos and various association meetings. He can be reached via www.selfstorageconsulting.com or at his company's new corporate offices at 6 Slice Road, Lake Monticello, VA 22963; phone 434.589.4446.