Some self-storage operators question the importance of collecting emergency and alternate contact information from tenants on their rental agreement. They wonder:
- Why do I need to ask for an emergency or alternate contact on each rental agreement?
- What if the tenant refuses?
- Am I obligating myself to communicate with that emergency/alternate contact?
- Am I potentially violating my tenant’s right of privacy if I give information to the emergency/alternate contact?
The answer to these questions lies in two different places—your state self-storage statute, and the language and protections in the rental agreement itself.
Alternate vs. Emergency Contact
Some statutes require that you have a place in your rental agreement where you collect the information of a second person to whom you can send notices in the event of a default. We generally refer to this as the alternate contact. If this is the case in your state, then you are required to ask for it. However, even if you’re not required to get an alternate contact, I recommend you do anyway, subject to the conditions outlined in this article.
An emergency contact is potentially different. One could easily argue that a lien-sale default notice is not an emergency such as a fire or flood. While you should collect emergency-contact information in addition to an alternate contact, you have to define in your rental agreement what you’ll do with that info.
These restrictions are not like state privacy laws in which you must disclose what you’ll do with someone’s e-mail address. However, you want to disclaim certain liability to avoid the accusation that you were supposed to do something “extra” with emergency-contact information. Thus, many rental documents—if they ask for an emergency contact—state that it specifies the person the operator tries to reach if there’s a pressing issue with the property at the facility. Try to stay away from defining exactly what an emergency may entail, then contact only if you’re not able to reach the tenant.
The emergency contact will not be entitled to any default notices, and he doesn’t become an authorized occupant. He cannot access the unit or order a lock cut. That said, you can send notices to the emergency contact in the event of a default, even if you’re not obligated to do so by your state statute or the tenant himself. You might not send notices to the emergency contact by Certified Mail the way you would to an actual tenant; but from a “belt and suspenders” safety mentality, you want as many different contact names and numbers as you can possibly get.