Storage Under Fire
It's nothing new, yet it's still frustrating to see: A Public Storage facility in Renton, Wash., is under fire by the KOMO 4 News "Buyer Beware" team because of a string of robberies that occurred on premises. According to the report, "The problem is that identity thieves and drug addicts rent storage units just like everyone else. Once they're on the inside, they prey on others in the building. It's an ugly truth storage companies don't like to talk about."
Fair enough: No, we don't like to publicize our vulnerability to the criminal element. That doesn't make us responsible when tenants suffer due to a burglary—or their own lack of commonsense.
Storage tenant Jessie Napenias and his fiance stored their belongings at the facility in question for three months. Their goods included furniture (brand-new leather sofas and more), electronics (a big-screen TV), family keepsakes and collectibles. Their stuff was ransacked, much of it stolen; and a new lock replaced the one thieves likely cut. In three months, the renters never visited their unit. They were blissfully ignorant of the robbery until they went to claim their goods.
Jessie says he lost $10,000-$12,000 worth of property, claiming his basketball-card collection alone was worth "six to eight grand." He also admits he declined the insurance that was offered to him.
I've ranted from this soapbox before, but still I have to ask: You have $10k worth of stuff in your storage unit and you don't buy insurance for a few measly dollars per month? Are you insane? Also, why would you put a collection that is supposedly worth $6,000 to $8,000 into a storage unit? Do basketball cards take up so much room that you couldn't put them in a closet or drawer in your place of residence? Even if you're traveling and without a domicile, I believe a safety-deposit box would be a more suitable repository for something so valuable. (Now I'm wondering whether PS has a value limitation in its lease agreement?)
Please, people of the renting world, be rational. I don't care how secure you believe a facility to be ... What's that poignant saying? Oh, yeah. S*** happens!
In fairness, KOMO 4 News made note of the fact the facility has a coded entry gate, a keypad lock at the main door and a personal padlock on each unit. It went on to say, however, that many of the locks are "relatively inexpensive padlocks sold by Public Storage." This might be true. But I'm sure this facility, like most, offers higher-end disc locks as well. I'm also sure it made the tenant aware he could use any lock of his choosing.
Look, I'm not denying a storage business has a responsibility to provide as secure and safe an environment as is reasonably possible. Sure it does. But there are limits to what an operator can protect against. And we make our liability (or lack of) very plain to customers in the contract they sign upon rental. But what am I telling you for? You already know this.
Theft at storage facilities is not uncommon (just read the paper on any given day). But neither is crime at many commercial businesses that center around property, whether it be retail or personal. The predators are out there, and they seem to get increasingly clever. Consumers, on the other hand, become increasingly retaliatory and demanding. They lack a sense of personal responsibility. They're quick to point the finger at anybody but themselves. And when it comes to self-storage, the tenant's finger is lightning fast.
I do want to applaud KOMO 4 for doing something pro-active: It included with its story three helpful tips for people using storage, and they were actually quite good. But here are a few tips for you, the operator:
1. Always make tenant insurance available to your customers. And have them sign an acknowledgment or waiver if they decline. (Consider attending next month's Legal Learning webinar, which focuses on the legal importance of this product. Participation is free. To register, visit www.insideselfstorage.com/webinars.)
2. Consider including a value limitation in your lease agreement. For more information on this topic, read this article, written by legal expert Jeffrey Greenberger and published by Inside Self-Storage. It is a couple years old, but you'll get the idea.
3. Screen your tenants. You won't always be able to filter out the bad seeds, but you'll have greater recourse to defend yourself should you ever come under fire yourself.