All of these things must be disclaimed in your rental agreement. The point is the provision (or non-provision) of these services must be clear to the tenant. It is one thing to say you provide these services in general. It is another thing to say to the tenant, "You are or are not in a unit where this service is provided."
Other Areas of Risk
The same can be said for so many services in self-storage. For example, what do you say to disclose the availability of security systems at your facility and its ability to stop crime via features such as access gates, alarm systems, lighting, surveillance cameras, etc.? Do all of your units have the benefit of features or just some? If not all, perhaps it's worthwhile to disclaim security systems; your advertising might lead a consumer to believe every unit is alarmed, for example.
Another risky area that has risen to the forefront is some operators' willingness to bill tenants with a snail-mail invoice. Several wrongful-sale claims have been brought forth using the defense that the tenant never received a paper bill; therefore, the debt was not paid and the tenant's property was sold. If you don't mail a bill to everyone but you are willing to mail to some, you better build some disclaimer language in your rental agreement to clarify.
You may offer other services to some, if not all, of your tenants, and they also need to be clarified in the agreement. Think in terms of 24-hour gate access, permission to store a vehicle, auto-pay and e-mail notifications. Temperature/climate control has simply come to the forefront because of the rather hard-to-believe claims that are now being made; however, it forces us to examine these other issues more closely.
In 2014, re-examine your rental agreement, especially in light of what you say in your advertising or marketing materials. Whether it's on the Web, your facility signage or anywhere else, make sure that if you offer a service or feature, you make the details are ridiculously clear in the agreement, especially if it isn't offered to everyone or there's an additional charge. You need to be able to defend yourself against those who expect to get something for nothing.
This column is for the purpose of providing general legal insight into the Self-Storage field and should not be substituted for the advice of your own attorney.Jeffrey J. Greenberger is a partner with the law firm Katz, Greenberger, & Norton LLP in Cincinnati and is licensed to practice in the states of Ohio and Kentucky. Mr. Greenberger’s practice focuses primarily on representing the owners and operators of commercial real estate, including self-storage owners and operators. His website, www.selfstoragelegal.com , contains legal opinions and insights as well as an article archive. You can send your questions, comments or suggestions for future topics to firstname.lastname@example.org .