All Kinds of Victory

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In what can only be described as a significant and defining victory for the self-storage industry, Guardian Self Storage of New York won a discrimination complaint filed by a potential customer with the New York State Division of Human Rights. The facts and background of the case were detailed in the May issue of “What’s in Store,” the member newsletter of the New York Self Storage Association (NYSSA).

A customer attempted to rent a unit at one of Guardian’s 12 facilities. When the manager requested identification, the customer offered only a copy of a Jamaican passport and a disconnected cell-phone number. She claimed to have no Social Security number, and no other photo ID or verifiable information. Following the “Know Your Customer” protocols developed by the NYSSA and Guardian’s standard rental procedures, the manager refused to rent to her.

Claiming to have been discriminated against, the customer filed a complaint, seeking $5,000 in damages. The Division of Human Rights launched an investigation to determine the facts of the situation. On April 19, it released its decision:

“If the Complainant had provided Respondent (Guardian) with proper forms of identification , Respondent would have rented a storage facility to Complainant. Respondent properly followed its own lawful policies in denying Complainant the rental of a storage facility when Complainant could neither produce valid forms of identification, nor did she have a valid address or operable phone number. The Respondent has advanced a non-discriminatory, business reason for the treatment of Complainant. This reason was not found to be a pretext to discriminate. The complaint is therefore ordered dismissed and the file is closed.”

NYSSA President Chris McGrath explained that even though this is not an Appellate Court decision, it is significant. It confirms that businesses in which proper verifiable identification is a critical element of the written contract—affecting an interest in real property—must have the right to verify the ID of the party to be charged with responsibility under the contract.

“We are delighted by the determination rendered in our favor,” said Kelley Redl- Hardisty, CEO of Guardian Self Storage. “Since 9/11, we have received informational notices from the FBI and the New York State Office of Public Safety that stress the importance of being sensitive to measures that will help prevent violence and attack. At Guardian, our managers are the first line to ensure safety and security. Our manager carefully followed our own policies in refusing to rent a unit to a person without proper, verifiable ID. Fortunately, the Human Rights Commission was not swayed by the attempt to allege discrimination.”

The lesson for all self-storage owners and managers is the importance of following rental procedures. I know there are times when a prospective customer seems desperate for your help, but you should never violate your company’s policies. If you don’t have a set of written guidelines, ask your state self-storage association or a fellow operator for help with putting some in place.

Every owner across the country should join me in congratulating the Guardian management team for defending their business and the entire industry against unfounded charges. I hope their experience encourages you to review your rental procedures for consistency.

Weeding Out Weeds

All of us struggle to keep up with weeds on our properties. My home in Virginia is surrounded with wood mulch instead of grass, and despite diligent efforts to remove weeds, some are very stubborn indeed, particularly the poison ivy that grows near the woods.

I live on a “water recharge” area, and any chemicals I use on the lawn end up in the lake. While looking for an all-natural product online, I stumbled across a local company, St. Gabriel Laboratories, a commercial research lab founded by the Reuter Co. in 1986. It produces a full line of natural products designed to eliminate weeds “forever.” I was skeptical until I started reading the ingredients: clove oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, vinegar, citric acid, mineral oil, lecithin and water.

I ordered two products, Burn Out and Poison Ivy Defoliant; and like a kid with a new toy, I got out my liquid sprayer and started on the weed patch. To my pleasant surprise, the product started having an effect within an hour. After about four hours, I saw a remarkable change. By the following morning, all of the weeds had been killed. Armed with those results, I attacked the poison ivy. Once again, I saw great results within a couple of hours and, by morning, all of the leaves and plant stocks had withered.

I don’t want to mislead you into believing you can use these products carelessly. The company’s mandatory Material Safety Data Sheets disclose serious consequences that can result from direct contact with the skin or prolonged breathing of the vapors. But you can’t beat the results. If you want to eliminate the weeds and unwanted grasses at your facility, give them a try. Visit www.milkyspore.com for more information.

ISS Miami Expo 2005

I urge owners and managers to attend the Inside Self-Storage Expo at the Hyatt-Regency in Miami, Oct. 26-29, which promises an outstanding line up. The event kicks off with a developers’ seminar hosted by the Florida Self Storage Association, which got rave reviews at last year’s show, and a keynote presentation by Gayle Carson, author of Winning Ways: How to Get to the Top and Stay There.

The expo’s educational programs are well-balanced between development and management issues. Whether you’re new to the industry or a veteran, you’ll find new ideas awaiting you on this year’s agenda. Owners should consider sending their employees to the managers’ workshop taught by industry expert Joe Niemczyk, president of Executive Self Storage Associates Inc. His entertaining, enlightening full-day seminar has helped thousands of managers improve their bottom-line performance.

As always, the tradeshow will feature a wide selection of premier self-storage suppliers. If you don’t have time to attend the entire show, exhibits-only registration is available. I am honored to again be a speaker at the ISS expo, and I hope to see you in Miami!

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC, which has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry since 1990. In addition to being a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, Mr. Chiswell contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS expos and other industry events. For more information, call 434.589.4446; visit www.selfstorageconsulting.com.

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