I have been fortunate enough to write articles for Inside Self-Storage over the past several years, and this month I would like to use this column to acknowledge and praise a set of managers who work for me at Affordable Self Storage in Pacheco, Calif. Kevin and Louise Griffith have been with me for almost three years at this site, and in that time, they have had to deal with some very adverse conditions.
We had one company rent at this facility for almost 15 years and, during that time, it came to think of the facility as its own property with its own rules. For the first year or so of her employment, Louise had to put up with these people entering the property after hours, working on personal vehicles, using abusive language--just general mistreatment! She diligently worked with this company and "retrained" its employees.
This is also an older site with no door alarms or elevators (even though it has two stories). While there are video cameras on-site, we have experienced break-ins in the past; but due to Kevin and Louise's constant "eagle eye," the perpetrators were evicted or caught by the police.
Needless to say, this team has experienced some challenges in the management of the facility. The worst one to date happened in April. My office received a telephone call at 4:30 a.m., April 19, from Louise who frantically notified us there was a fire at the facility. When I finally reached her that afternoon, she told me the whole story.
Two days prior to this horrible incident, a tenant notified Kevin and Louise her unit had been broken into by the tenant next door. Since the facility was almost 20 years old, it was made of 2x4s, drywall and stucco and had no sprinkler system. A man had rented a unit in October and allowed his son access to it. The son, a young man in his late 20s, cut through the dry wall, robbed his neighbor, then replaced the dry wall and secured it.
When the victim reported her discovery, Kevin and Louise called the police. A report was filed and an incident report faxed to my home office. The thief's father was notified his son had burglarized a unit, and he made arrangements to come to the facility and remove his lock so police and the victim could identify any stolen goods. Early on the morning his father was to arrive, the tenant's son jumped the security fencing and started a fire in the building to destroy any evidence.
Louise woke at 4:30 a.m. to the smell of smoke. She then looked out her bedroom window and saw smoke curling up from under the roof of the building across from her apartment and office. She immediately called the fire department and, in her quick-wittedness, ran downstairs to the office and watched the surveillance tape. She saw the son enter and, a few minutes later, run from the building as smoke began to appear. Louise was able to identify the thief, give the tape to the police, and within two hours this man was under arrest for theft and arson.
Had Kevin and Louise not been the type of managers they are--fully aware of those coming and going on their site, knowing most tenants by name, acting in a professional manner and being quick-witted--damage to this facility could have been much greater. We're thankful there was no loss of life. This is certainly a good argument for having on-site living quarters.
After the fire and 190 damaged units, Kevin and Louise had to field irate tenants calls and deal with devastated tenants demanding to climb through the burnt remains and gather any items they could retrieve (which we obviously did not allow due to safety hazards). They also had to deal with insurance agents and notification of tenants out of the state or country. I went to the facility to go through the tenant files of all damaged units to ensure they had signed insurance addendums, as most of the tenants didn't recall ever being told about or offered the insurance.
We have had three different owners at this facility since it was built, and I am proud to say all our personal tenant files were very organized and complete. However, one of the previous owners had been one of the industry's top three operators, and I was appalled to see there was not one insurance addendum in his files. He just relied on the paragraph in his rental agreement that states the owner assumes no responsibility. To my relief, we had fewer than 10 tenants carried over from that company.
This tragedy brings a question to mind: Do you have an "eagle eye" at your facility? Are you aware of the people coming and going on your site, and would you have been able to handle a situation such as this one? Do you offer tenant-insurance forms and are they signed and in the tenant file?
I would like to say thank you, Kevin and Louise, for a fantastic job under adverse conditions.
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.