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Preventing Discrimination Suits

Kenneth M. Piken Comments

There are many circumstances under which a self-storage operator can choose not to rent a unit to an individual. Of course, the exposure to the operator could be enormous if the necessary safeguards aren’t instituted prior to the “refusal.”

Your rental procedures and requirements should be clearly established and posted in a conspicuous place for all prospective customers to see, and they should be applied consistently to all renters. For example, a facility might request two forms of identification, and a valid credit card may be a condition of the rental.

Any deviation from these standards would constitute a waiver, compromising the rights of the facility. It could also result in the operator being viewed as acting in a discriminatory manner. This would certainly give rise to an action against the company for violation of human-rights laws.

A complaint was filed in the State Division of Human Rights in the Executive Department of the State of New York alleging unlawful discriminatory practices as to national origin. A self-storage customer was refused a unit and claimed the decision was based on race; but the facts revealed he could not produce the required forms of ID, i.e., a valid address or phone number. These prerequisites were clearly listed at the facility. The Executive Department found that since these procedures were established and followed, refusal to rent a unit did not constitute discrimination in this case.

Be Aware of Violations Laws

In addition to human-rights violations, there are other complaints that can be filed against a storage operator including EEOC (equal employment opportunity council) violations and violations of Federal Civil Rights Assertions, commonly known as 1982 assertions, based on U.S. Codes.

All the matters must be responded to and defended and, of course, at considerable expense. The violations can result in horrendous fines and have a negative impact on a company’s public image.

There’s no clear and simple rule to guide these situations; but any violation of state regulatory rules would ultimately be enforced in accordance with the matter in the U.S. Supreme Court known as Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 US 461(1982). The net result would be that for any multi-state storage operation, the findings could be enforced throughout the country at each and every facility being operated by that company.

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