All across America there are self-storage properties without offices and on-site staff. Back in the old days, prospective tenants could pick their own units, secure them with their own locks, fill out a contract and mail it with a check in the self-addressed stamped envelope provided at the do-it-yourself station outside the facility. Sound crazy? Not at all.
In the past, if you had any leftover land, you could create a 40- to 50-unit storage facility and enjoy a handsome return with very little labor and hassle. Sure, the facility owner may have set himself up for trouble if he took a lackadaisical approach. Someone could move in without a contract; trespassers could dump trash in vacant units; and the possibilities of all kinds of liability were endless.
On the other hand, the reality of risk was low if the site was located in a small community where everyone knows everybody else. In small towns, most people are honest and fair when using a self-service facility. I know that your legal counsel would tell you to be very cautious before proceeding with anything similar to this scenario, but the practice is still widespread.
Fast-Forward to the Past
This same concept has been improved with new technologies over the years, but the basics are still the same. Some owners post cell-phone numbers on a sign at the site. If you want to rent a unit, you call the owner and arrange all the details on the phone. You can either choose the unit yourself or make an appointment for the owner to open a unit for you.
This updated system allows owners to be a little more careful and mitigate fewer risks. It does take time to field the phone calls and meet the appointments. Some mix the cell-phone contact with the mail-in contract and are able to combine personal phone contact with the ease of self-service.
Some operators have set up websites where new customers can visit and check a few boxes to agree to the lease terms, and make the rent payment online using PayPal. This brings the lease-signing and payment-processing into the 21st century, but leaves the rest of the self-service protocol pretty much the same. Using a method like this lessens the chances of taking on a delinquent customer or getting an unauthorized move-in.