What Would You Do? Getting a Grip on Self-Storage Crime

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It’s critical to keep in mind that you’re not the police and don’t have the authority to search an employee’s personal belongings or hold someone involuntarily for questioning. This may seem obvious, but the line between conversation and false imprisonment can be crossed all too easily. If it is determined a crime may have occurred, work with the police and your insurance agent to pursue any necessary legal action or claims.

What would you do if you came to work one morning and found one or several units broken into?

SST members generally agree that the discovery of a break-in should result in the notification of the affected tenant, the police and then a ranking member of the storage company. Randy Lucore (RandyL) of CR Area Storage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says he would also check any video-camera footage and the gate logs. “Generally when we find this, it is because of some kind of domestic dispute,” Lucore notes. “Or the tenant broke into [his] own unit.”

SST senior member geraldine1051 once discovered a break-in during her morning rounds. The police were hesitant to come out initially because the tenant had reported a large amount of marijuana stolen from his home the previous day.

“Turns out the tenant had left his rental agreement along with the key to his lock on the front seat of his unlocked truck, and he freaked out when we looked at the camera log to see his truck pulling out with his stuff in it,” she recalls. “Once all this died down—and I still don't know how it turned out—I evicted the tenant for talking disrespectfully to me. Go figure.”

What SHOULD you do?

Appleby: Follow the policies and procedures provided by the company. This should tell you who to contact, in what order, and the specific steps to take. If you don’t have this, let the owner or supervisor know and call the police immediately. Take pictures and secure the units or area. Do not touch anything. Once the police are through, contact the tenants and request they come to the site and inspect their unit. Tenants will need to report it to their insurance provider.

Ballard: We complete an unusual-incident report with photos and start calling customers right away to come and check their units. Make sure the thief can't get back onto the property by repairing a fence or anything damaged by the thieves.

Bledsoe: Each property manager would be required to contact his district manager immediately, and he must submit an incident report. The report identifies what happened, who was affected, when it happened and who was notified. We would review video recordings, contact the police, contact all tenants, secure all units, and identify how the thieves may have gained access to the property. We would also review how we can prevent something like this from happening in the future and, if it persists, we may hire a security-guard company for night-time monitoring.

Schaefer: First, call the police and report the discovery. Secure the area to prohibit any public traffic around or into the effected units until the police arrive to investigate. Contact your insurance agent to make an initial report of the incident and make reasonable efforts to contact the tenants of each effected unit, keeping a record of your efforts. In the presence of the police, photograph the scene, any evidence of forced entry, and the interior of the effected units. Damage to your structures caused by forced entry would typically be covered for loss in excess of any applicable deductible.

Additionally, some tenants may believe the facility is responsible for their loss. A well-written self-storage agreement will typically make it clear that you are not responsible for loss or damage to a tenant’s stored property, but even well-written agreements are sometimes tested.

Sedlacek: Once the scene has been released by the police, document all damages by taking photographs and making relevant notes. Tenants should not be allowed on the premises until the scene is secured for two important reasons: ensuring their safety and preserving the scene for investigative purposes. One additional reminder: Tenants wishing to file a claim against their tenant-insurance policy or homeowner policy will need to file their own police report, which is each tenant’s responsibility. Encourage them to contact the police to file a report for any damaged or stolen items.

To read more great content in the ISS "What Would You Do?" business-challenges series, type code WWYD13 in the search box at insideselfstorage.com.

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