Some self-storage operators question the importance of collecting emergency and alternate contact information from tenants on their rental agreement. They wonder:
- Why do I need to ask for an emergency or alternate contact on each rental agreement?
- What if the tenant refuses?
- Am I obligating myself to communicate with that emergency/alternate contact?
- Am I potentially violating my tenants right of privacy if I give information to the emergency/alternate contact?
The answer to these questions lies in two different placesyour state self-storage statute, and the language and protections in the rental agreement itself.
Alternate vs. Emergency Contact
Some statutes require that you have a place in your rental agreement where you collect the information of a second person to whom you can send notices in the event of a default. We generally refer to this as the alternate contact. If this is the case in your state, then you are required to ask for it. However, even if youre not required to get an alternate contact, I recommend you do anyway, subject to the conditions outlined in this article.
An emergency contact is potentially different. One could easily argue that a lien-sale default notice is not an emergency such as a fire or flood. While you should collect emergency-contact information in addition to an alternate contact, you have to define in your rental agreement what youll do with that info.
These restrictions are not like state privacy laws in which you must disclose what youll do with someones e-mail address. However, you want to disclaim certain liability to avoid the accusation that you were supposed to do something extra with emergency-contact information. Thus, many rental documentsif they ask for an emergency contactstate that it specifies the person the operator tries to reach if theres a pressing issue with the property at the facility. Try to stay away from defining exactly what an emergency may entail, then contact only if youre not able to reach the tenant.
The emergency contact will not be entitled to any default notices, and he doesnt become an authorized occupant. He cannot access the unit or order a lock cut. That said, you can send notices to the emergency contact in the event of a default, even if youre not obligated to do so by your state statute or the tenant himself. You might not send notices to the emergency contact by Certified Mail the way you would to an actual tenant; but from a belt and suspenders safety mentality, you want as many different contact names and numbers as you can possibly get.
Giving Yourself More Opportunities
Assume youre in a state that doesnt require you to collect an alternate contact for the purposes of notices. Should you be asking for an alternate contact, emergency contact, both or neither? In a perfect world, you should ask for both because the alternate and emergency contact may be different and, in the end, if theres a loss or default, you might not be contacting the right person if you only ask for one of the two.
Let me give you a quick example. A tenant lists his wife as the emergency contact, but names his parents as alternate contacts for notices. Lets say the tenant divorces and defaults on the unit. You send an extra copy of the default notice to the now disenfranchised ex-spouse, who promptly throws it away rather than tell her ex his stuff may be in jeopardy. It seems nice and revengeful enough, but it doesnt really help you.
If you send a notice to the home of the tenants parents, however, mom and pop will hopefully have sustained contact with their son and be able to help you resolve the problem or reach the tenant. By asking for both contacts, even when not required, youve given yourself two extra opportunities to reach someone who may help you resolve a default.
Some self-storage operators dont want to collect that much information on the lease. If youre only going to ask for one, choose an emergency contact. (This assumes your state statute doesnt require you to ask for the alternate.) The emergency contact is generally the person in the best position, short of a divorce or some other life change, to assist you in locating your tenant. When you request emergency information, make sure you disclaim that this person might not be entitled to the same notices and doesnt have entry or other rights under the rental agreement.
Consider a Hybrid
If your state statute requires you to collect alternate-contact information, you cannot disclaim responsibility for sending notices to that person. In that case, I dont recommend you change the title of alternate contact to emergency contact in your lease. However, the other disclosures named above should be listed in your rental agreement, for example, no authorization to enter, etc.
Finally, consider a hybrid, especially in states where youre not required to collect an alternate contact. Add lines for emergency/alternate contact information in the rental agreement, and allow space for one or two names and phone numbers with relationships. This way, youre not splitting hairs between emergency and alternate information. Plus, you can include all the pertinent disclaimers and still collection the information of several people who might help you find your tenant if necessary.
This column is for the purpose of providing general legal insight into the self-storage field and should not be substituted for the advice of your own attorney.
Jeffrey J. Greenberger is a partner with the law firm of Katz Greenberger & Norton LLP in Cincinnati and is licensed to practice in Kentucky and Ohio. Mr. Greenberger primarily represents the owners and operators of commercial real estate, including self-storage owners and operators. To reach him, call 513.721.5151; visit www.selfstoragelegal.com .