No matter how good your self-storage business may be, there are still many laws and regulations that expose it to liability. The best way to reduce that liability is to understand your risks and adjust your operational practices accordingly. The top legal threats for facility operators in 2017 fall into three categories: technology, ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) accessibility and court intervention.
As the self-storage industry moves further into the world of technology and explores ways it can be applied to facility operation, there’s increased risk of liability. Technology isn’t fool-proof. There’s always the risk that a system will malfunction or be hacked. Even though there are operational benefits to technology use, there can be legal drawbacks.
First, as more operators rely on online rentals and Web-based financial transactions, the risk of data breaches increases. Most of you work hard to secure your customer information, using firewalls and other Internet-security protections, such as encryption. When it comes to credit or debit card payments, you work with your merchant-services providers to ensure your systems comply with the Payment Card Industry standards and other regulations. However, there are no guarantees against a data breach.
If you’re using a website to transact business, it should meet certain requirements relating to consumer protections. For example, it must be easy to use, readily understandable for a typical consumer, and accessible to those with disabilities. As such, it should use legible fonts, clear buttons for acceptance of terms and, if possible, visual and audio methods for describing facility services.
This technology concern can also expand to systems that are subject to occasional failure, including management software, payment processing, kiosks, gate systems and security cameras. If you’re using technology to manage your facility, you must make the effort to maintain the systems and be prepared to update them as necessary to avoid operational disruptions.
Beyond liability arising from technology, there are other legal threats to storage operations. I expect to see an increase in litigation around the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Title III of the ADA prohibits private entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities by maintaining places of business that aren’t physically accessible. The act requires that places of “public accommodation”—private businesses that offer goods and services to the public, including self-storage facilities—remove architectural barriers that limit access to or use of the location.
The ADA requires that small businesses remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it’s "readily achievable" to do so. This means "easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense." This requirement is based on the business’ size and resources. Companies with more resources are expected to remove more barriers than those with fewer resources. Barrier removal may include:
- Providing an accessible route from a parking lot to the business entrance
- Installing an entrance ramp
- Widening a doorway
- Installing accessible door hardware
- Repositioning shelves
- Moving tables, chairs, display racks, vending machines or other furniture