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Be a Self-Storage Sentinel: Watching Out for Cats, Kids and Other Things That Dont Belong in Storage Units

A self-storage operator's job involves much more than just renting units and collecting payments. Owners and managers also need to their property's sentinel, and be aware of the items stored behind those unit doors. Here a few pointers for being a good watchman. 

By Amy Campbell  

Most operators give their new tenants a laundry list of items they can’t store in their self-storage unit. This list will include the usual things such as gasoline, fertilizers, explosives, paint or other hazardous chemicals. Sadly, operators may need to expand their warning to include cats, dogs, snakes and even children. While it seems ludicrous you’d need to tell another adult not to lock up anything alive in a dark place, it happens—often.

Case in point: last week, staff at a CubeSmart facility in Merritt Island, Fla., called authorities after noticing a foul odor coming from a unit. When deputies opened the door, they found 23 cats in kennels. The poor kitties were covered with feces and urine and without food. The 10-by-15 unit was climate-controlled, but lacked circulation. Fortunately, most of the felines appeared to be in good condition and were turned over to an animal-care facility.

Over the years, ISS has published news about snakes kept in aquariums in a unit, children living inside a storage unit, dogs and kittens locked up, and other wild stories. And the crazy doesn’t end with what’s being stored. We’ve also published articles about fighting tenants, theft and more than a few stabbings.

As a self-storage operator it’s your duty to keep your facility clean and secure. You have your eye on delinquent accounts and provide excellent customer service when faced with a disgruntled tenant. But your job is much more complex. You’re also the property’s sentinel. It’s a facet of the job that you should take just as seriously as you do renting units and collecting payments.

In no way am I suggesting you ever put yourself in danger. Let the cops do the dangerous stuff. What you can do, however, is be on guard. If something seems off to you, it probably is. Sadly, the cats found in the CubeSmart unit were there for nearly two weeks, according to authorities. An operator who’s in touch with his property would’ve uncovered this unfortunate situation sooner. To read what other operators have to say about this sad story and how they'd prevent it, check out this thread on Self-Storage Talk.

So, what do you really know about what’s being stored behind your unit doors? It’s true that what people store is none of your business—to a point. It becomes your business when the something the tenant is storing could be in danger or presents a hazard to you, the facility and your other tenants. What do you know about your tenants? How much face time do you have with them, being that we live in a very technology-centric world? As more tenants rent units and pay their bills online, it can be harder for operators to get to know their customers. And if you’re overseeing a big property, getting to know 500-plus tenants is a tall order. No matter your facility’s size, you can still be your property’s sentinel.

First, get out of your office as often as you can. Walk or drive through your property several times a day. During your perusal, you can look for security breaches, such as units with locks that are unlatched, as well as maintenance items that need your attention. If there’s a dog, cat or other animal locked in a unit, you’ll know about it.

Your facility tour will also let you be seen by your tenants. A customer contemplating something criminal will think twice if he sees you on the grounds every time he visits. Make eye contact, say hello and offer a water bottle whenever possible.

You should also let your tenants know they should report anything that seems fishy directly to you. Every property has a handful of customers who access their unit regularly. Seek out those you can trust and ask them to be a second set of eyes and ears.

“Not on my watch” should be your motto. Sure, criminals are getting cleverer, but so are operators. If something seems out of place, question it. You’re not being paranoid, you’re protecting your property.

How do you safeguard your facility? Post a comment below or join the discussion on Self-Storage Talk, the industry’s largest online community.

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