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

Bernard Fensterwald Comments
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More important, it’s relatively simple to rewrite your rental agreement in plain language without sacrificing its legal value.You don’t have to load up the agreement with technical language to make it valid. In fact, using a minimum of legalese will make the contract more valuable because it will be more understandable to all.

How do you convert a rental agreement to one that’s more understandable using plain language?  Here are a few tips to make it easier to read and understand:

  • Consider your audience. Write your documents for them.
  • Put all of the language in first person. Using terms “we” and “you” are easier to understand than “the party of the first part” or “tenant.” Of course, you should identify who the parties are in the beginning of the agreement.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use fewer positive and easier-to-understand words.
  • Start off each paragraph with a clear heading. Avoid putting more than one main idea into a single paragraph.
  • Use a readable typeface. Ten-point type is much easier to read than eight-point. If you use fewer words, you can afford to make them bigger and easier to read.
  • Use more “white space” to separate paragraphs in the rental agreement.
  • Be direct and include only essential information. Avoid ambiguities.
  • Logically group related information into adjoining paragraphs, placing the more important information first.
  • Use technical and legal language with care.

Keep Some Legalese

Of course, it’s essential that some legal language remain in your rental agreement. A good example is the term “lien.” A self-storage lien is a legal interest storage operators have in the property stored by their customers to insure rental payments. This lien is a creation of state law and available in almost every state.  Because of its singular importance to the effective operation of your business, and because it’s not something a customer will routinely be affected by, it’s a good idea to include the term in your lease and explain in simple terms what it means.

Other legal terms such as “indemnity,” “hold harmless” and “default” are vital as well. What’s important to remember, however, is that if you do include these and other legal terms, you should define what they mean in a manner that’s well-understood.

When properly done, revising your rental agreement through the use of plain language can provide many benefits. For example, an agreement that’s easy to understand requires less time to explain at the outset. First, it’s likely your employees will spend less valuable time following up with customers after mistakes are made and recurring questions arise. This frees them to work on more important tasks. Many self-storage operators pride themselves on top-notch customer service. Providing an easy to understand rental agreement clearly fits into this trend.

In addition to making it easier for customers to understand their relationship with your business, it might have an environmental effect was well. Shorter, more concise rental agreements take less paper. Saving trees and happy customers, that’s what plain language is all about.
 
Bernard Fensterwald III is a consulting attorney with 25-plus years of experience. He’s licensed to practice law in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. He’s also a principal in U-Store Management, a Washington, D.C.-based self-storage company, and a past president of the Washington Area Self Storage Association. To reach him, e-mail fensterwald@mac.com; visit www.fensterwald.weebly.com

To learn more about self-storage rental agreements and other legal issues, take advantage of the comprehensive education program at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo. Click here for show details.

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