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Updating Your Self-Storage Rental Agreement to Use 'Plain Language'

Bernard Fensterwald Comments

One of the most important aspects of your self-storage operation is the rental agreement. It not only binds the customer to certain stipulations—rent, late fees, move-out, trash, etc.—but can protect your business in case of a lawsuit. When was the last time you reviewed your rental agreement? Also, do you understand what all the terms in the document mean?
The rental agreement forms the landlord-tenant basis of your relationship with every customer storing at your facility. It eliminates the creation of a bailment, and establishes all the rights and remedies between the parties. In essence, it’s central to every aspect of your business.

When was the last time you reviewed your rental agreement? Maybe you read it thoroughly when it was initially drafted by your lawyer. That may, however, have been many years ago. Perhaps you also periodically review it to ensure you haven’t overlooked any important changes to the business laws in your state (including your state’s lien law) or updates to modern business practices. Some operators may have never read through their rental agreement at all, placing complete faith in their attorney to cover what’s required.

Self-storage operators are not lawyers, and rental agreements are chock full of unfamiliar and often archaic technical language, or “legalese.” Many rental agreements contain long, convoluted paragraphs designed to cover every eventuality under the sun. If an operator cannot be expected to understand all the legal implications of a rental agreement, can you have any hope employees and tenants do?

And there lies the rub, because employees and customers are the people who work with rental agreements on a daily basis. Therefore, it’s important the documents they use be written in a way they can all understand. 

Of course, many operators take the position that the lease is the lease, and if the tenant doesn’t sign it and agree to abide by it, then he doesn’t get a unit. It’s sort of like buying a new house or car―if you want the money, you’ll sign all the loan forms without exception. Why bother trying to understand the terms?

Consider how many homeowners who’ve recently lost homes to foreclosure because they didn’t fully understand all the implications of the documents they signed. Under that theory, understanding the rental agreement is secondary. This is all well and good until a dispute rises between the operator and the tenant. And, unfortunately, it might!

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