To paraphrase the band Inner Circle, whose song “Bad Boys” plays before every episode of the TV reality show “Cops”: Do you know what you’re gonna do when they come for you or your tenants’ stuff? Sadly, the question is often “when,” not “if” they'll come. Even the most well-lit, well-guarded self-storage facilities in the safest areas face at least a rare attempted theft. This can even include a delinquent tenant determined to break into an overlocked unit before it goes to auction. In addition, the reality TV show “Storage Wars” has caused much of the public to think all storage units contain treasure chests full of valuable items.
Theft isn’t the only concern, though. Drug and gun traffickers have attempted—and sometimes succeeded—in storing sizable amounts of contraband in units for extended periods of time. Since 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FBI have put self-storage facilities on alert that terrorist cells might look to put dangerous and deadly equipment in rental units. It’s not unheard of for prostitutes, forgers and other nefarious “entrepreneurs” to rent a unit and call it home base.
Prevention Is Priority No. 1
The myriad criminal possibilities make prevention one of the most important roles of self-storage managers, whether they live onsite or commute. Through cameras, gates and keypads, lighting, and literally, the bells and whistles of alarms, numerous security technology products exist. But keeping the facility and its stored items safe starts with savvy managers trusting their gut instincts and using good old-fashioned common sense. Thankfully, easy-to-execute, low-tech and cheap methods will prevent crime and deter criminals from joining your tenant roster.
Several managers weighed in with their opinions on the most effective crime-fighting methods on Self-Storage Talk (SST), the industry's largest online community. Here’s some of their best pointers.
No. 1: Thoroughly screen new tenants. Though a criminal background check is probably a bit much, a good once-over and informal “interview” of your new tenants is a good way to get a feel for what they’re like. Though some managers may feel desperate for new business, what good is it to rent to someone who’s looking to store illegal goods, conduct illegal activities, or will likely go into delinquency anyway? Even if you end up leasing a unit, getting a first impression from a tenant is important in knowing who needs to be watched closely.
No. 2: Ask tenants to report suspicious activity. Your tenants have the biggest vested interest in making sure their stuff stays safe. They’re on the property during all accessible hours. Tell them they’re the first line of defense, and give them an easy way to report suspicious behavior, whether that’s encouraging them to call the police directly or giving them an after-hours contact phone number. On that note, it certainly helps to have law enforcement as tenants.
No. 3: Find trustworthy business tenants and tell them they can work onsite. One SST member has a tenant who repairs broken televisions. He allows the tenant to work at the facility in his unit, which adds another pair of eyes. Remember, however, that all liability still resides with the facility and its paid employees.
No. 4: Get out of the office several times a day. Most managers have access to some kind of vehicle to drive around the property. They should make use of it several times a day. When tenants are accessing units, it never hurts to say hello and chat, not just to see what they’re up to but to look at who else is on the property and what they’re doing.