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

Bernard Fensterwald Comments
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Protecting Your Business

Consider this example: Let’s say a tenant returns to your facility after an extended absence and is behind on his rent. While his stored property hasn’t yet been auctioned, you’ve denied him access to his unit either by overlock or at the entry gate.

Although this possibility is mentioned in the rental agreement, it’s buried in a seven-line, eight-point-type, single-space paragraph titled “default” on page three. Maybe the tenant actually attempted to read and understand the agreement when it was signed ... until his eyes glazed over, and the manager was not able to explain all the terms in the first 10 overstuffed paragraphs, let alone the one in question.

So the tenant confronts the manager and angrily asks for an explanation. The manager tries to explain. The tenant is inconvenienced. Embarrassed. Voices are raised. Hopefully, the tenant pays what’s due and things move on. Perhaps not. Maybe the tenant remains angry and moves out soon thereafter. In either case, damage has been done. At best, the relationship has been harmed; at worst, it’s been lost.

On the other hand, suppose the rental agreement contained the following stand-alone sentence: “If you do not pay your rent on time, we may deny you access to your unit by putting our lock on it.” Clear, much easier to read and not hidden in gobs of verbiage. The same protection for you, but at least now the tenant understands where he stands before a dispute arises. Less anger, less chance of losing a customer.
Using Plain Language

One of the ways to lessen or eliminate these problems is to rewrite your rental agreement in what is known as plain language.The use of plain language documents is a nationwide movement that began in the 1970s and is now widely used by governments and businesses throughout the world. Many documents the U.S. government uses have been written in plain language.

Some states require that consumer contracts be written in plain language. For example, Pennsylvania mandates that contracts made for the “lease of real property” be written this way. California, Connecticut and New York have plain-language statutes. There’s clearly a trend toward easier-to-understand legal documents.

Plain language doesn’t require an operator to “dumb down” the rental agreement. Rather, you use it to clearly, confidently and effectively communicate the terms of the agreement to the people who matter most: your employees and customers. If everyone understands what they’re signing, there are fewer questions about the nature of the relationship they’re entering.

In some instances, storage operators will create a separate plain-language guide to help their employees and customers better understand the terms of the rental agreement. But wouldn’t it be simpler to revise the rental agreement itself rather than develop an ancillary document to explain it?

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