Why Self-Storage Operators Should Avoid the Danger of 'Authorized Access' and How to Do It

By Jeffrey Greenberger Comments
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What's one thing self-storage operators can do that will have an immediate and positive impact on their business? The answer is simple, at least from a legal perspective: Remove any reference to "authorized access" from their rental agreement and other forms. Collecting the names of people who have access to a tenant units causes trouble for operators every day.

On your rental agreement and other intake forms, you may be asking the customer what appears to be a simple, innocuous question: Who else may have access to the unit? Many of you put this in your agreement because you’ve followed previous advice (perhaps even from me) to avoid having more than one tenant on the contract. Maybe you've added such a line to appease a spouse or significant other who want to be named on the lease. The problem is it puts you in a potentially terrible position down the road.

When you take names of those who have "authorized access," you’re gratuitously expanding the services you offer to the tenant. The business model of a storage facility is to rent a unit where a customer can store personal property, accessing the space at will with no involvement on the operator’s part. The tenant rents the unit, you collect the rent and, hopefully, both sides are happy with the transaction.

When you allow for authorized access, you increase your responsibility to your tenant. You’ve essentially assumed the role of gate-keeper. Like it or not, you've implied that you stand at the gate to ensure only the tenant and authorized parties are allowed into the unit. Otherwise, why would you ask the customer to identify authorized visitors?

Authorized access should be defined confidentially between the tenant and whoever he wants to allow into the unit. Your involvement in that process adds another layer of bureaucracy, liability exposure and risk. Instead, simply tell your customer, “Whoever has your gate code and key will be able to come and go at will until you change your code or lock.” That way it remains a private matter between your tenant and his invited guests. You’re not making decisions about letting people come and go or cutting locks for people who may or may not be authorized.

Don’t Be a Referee

Allowing for authorized access may appear to be a convenience for your tenant and the other person, but it sets you up for potential legal problems. For example, someone who’s approved to access the unit might show up without the gate code or a key and expect your assistance. This is not your business. If a person doesn’t know the gate code, he should be able to get it from the tenant. If he doesn’t have a key, he needs to get it from the tenant rather than cut the lock.

Don’t let one fill-in-the-blank field on your rental agreement expose you to liability and risk. There are many operators who’ve being “bitten” by the authorized-access clause.

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