Marketing is an essential part of operating your self-storage business. Facility owners and managers know the importance of selling their services to the public. What many don't know are the risks of overselling them. You should avoid making representations about your products or services that you know to be false or made without regard for the truth, understanding that your customers may rely on those claims.
The phrase “truth in advertising” should govern your marketing activities. Whether in your website, brochures, signage or conversation with customers, it’s always best that statements are factual.
It’s equally important that you choose descriptive words carefully. For example, never use words such as “guarantee” or “promise” unless it relates to “friendly service.” You should certainly never promise or guarantee the safety or security of tenants' property, and always avoid using words such as “security” in advertising. Instead, use factual phrases such as "perimeter fencing," "personalized-code access gates" or "fenced and lighted."
Over the last few years, there have been a number of cases concerning representations made by landlords and whether they could be considered fraudulent. Let’s take a closer look at three of these cases and see what self-storage operators can learn from them.
DiSanto v. Safeco Insurance of America, Court of Appeals, Ohio, 2006
In this case, the plaintiff rented a storage unit and purchased a third-party tenant-insurance policy from the operator. The tenant subsequently discovered that his property had been damaged from water intrusion and made a claim to the insurance company. The claim was denied.
The tenant sued his homeowner’s carrier and the tenant-insurance carrier. After paying on the claim, the homeowner’s carrier brought a subrogation action against the self-storage facility and tenant-insurance company. The main claim against the facility addressed the use of the terms “climate-controlled” and “dry and safe” in the facility’s advertising.
The court held “there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether appellant (tenant) justifiably relied on the alleged representations of the [operator].” As such, the case was allowed to proceed against the storage facility. The key issue dealt with the lack of definition in the lease and other advertising as to the terms “climate-controlled” and “dry and safe.”
Robinson v. Sovran Acquisition L.P., Supreme Court, Alabama, 2011
This case dealt with a claim by a storage tenant whose unit was broken into during a time when the facility's cameras were not operable. He alleged the facility committed fraud. In this case, the tenant failed to establish his claim because, at the time the rental agreement was signed, the premises were protected by functioning surveillance cameras.