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Teri L. Lanza,
Editorial Director

Tony Jones,
Contributing Editor/Store Manager

Amy Campbell,
Editor

Self-Storage Squatters: Uncovering and Booting Live-In Tenants Before They Get Comfortable

By Amy Campbell Comments
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By Amy Campbell 

If you were looking to become famous a decade or so ago, you had to move to Hollywood or New York and audition for roles. These days, fame is easily obtainable to anyone with a smartphone. The explosion of YouTube, Vine and other video-sharing platforms has allowed the masses to tell their story—whatever it may be. Some are simply looking to share their lives or offer advice, while others are seeking celebrityhood. There are even scores of websites that guide people on how to become famous online.

While most of these videos are entertaining, educational and even enlightening, there are a few that can be damaging to others. One such video popped up recently by a guy who demonstrates how to live in a self-storage unit. The unnamed tenant, aka 0007craft, claims he lived in a unit at a U-Haul facility in Vancouver, Canada, for two months. The video offers a guided tour of his 10-by-10 unit, which he outfitted with all the comforts of home, including a bed, entertainment center and even electricity.

In an interview with “CBC News,” 0007craft claims he spent about $100 on hardware to rig his unit with electricity and paid $205 a month for the space, including insurance, plus an extra $5 a month for the power, which the staff approved. He had 24-hour access to the unit and used the facility bathroom but showered at a gym. He also claimed that as long as he kept a low profile, the storage staff said he could live in the unit. "I was allowed to be there at any time for as long as I wanted. The only rule I broke was sleeping there," he said.

U-Haul calls this guy’s version of the story a bunch of hooey. Officials say as soon as staff discovered 0007craft was living in the unit, he was given the boot. The eviction came two months before the video was posted to YouTube.

"U-Haul has procedures in place to detect anyone attempting to break the law and live in a storage locker/unit," company spokesman Jeff Lockridge told “CBC News.”

Regardless if he spent one night in the unit or 60-plus as he claims, one thing is certain: This video is bad news for the self-storage biz. While those of us working in the industry know and understand the legal ramifications and dangers of living inside a storage unit, the public at large likely doesn’t. The video, which has racked up nearly 1.7 million view since posting on Jan. 12—just a week!—is a basic “how-to guide” for living in a unit. And he makes it look good and so very simple! Where else can you get a secure, climate-controlled small room for about $200 a month? The guy had a TV, bed, hot plate, fridge and a couch. While he’s not the first storage squatter, he’s definitely one of the most creative. Even so, his unlawful act was still discovered by alert self-storage managers.

Self-storage operators have long battled tenants who push the boundaries of the service. The ones who are successful at curbing this kind of behavior are alert, nosy and even suspicious. It begins at the first meeting or phone call with a prospective tenant. Operators call it their “spidey” or “sixth” sense, or simply that something doesn’t “feel right.” It could be a tenant looking for the cheapest unit, someone who asks about security or access in a weird way, or even a person who hints that he’s “down on his luck.” If red flags are on the play, it’s time to dig in and evaluate if this truly is a tenant you want at your facility.

It’s my hope this sensationalized video of living in a unit will become just another entertainment outlet—even a publicity stunt—rather than a “how-to” guide to outsmart storage operators. Still, it’s a good reminder for operators everywhere that people can be enterprising and creative when it comes to self-storage and bending the rules. 0007craft’s electrical MacGyver act is just one example. Other signs that a tenant could be living in a unit include those who hang around the facility all the time, frequently running out of paper products in the restroom and an increase in trash, particularly food waste.

Self-storage units aren’t meant for people to live in, plain and simple. It’s your job to enforce that fact. If you do find someone crashing in a unit, act swiftly. You may have to ignore a sob story, deal with anger or even get local law enforcement involved. Keep in mind that you’re, ultimately, protecting yourself, the facility and other tenants.

Have you ever dealt with a tenant living in a unit? How did you handle the situation? Post a comment below or on Self-Storage Talk.

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