By Amy Campbell
It’s high on the list of things self-storage operators hope never happen at their facility: a shooting. When it leads to a lawsuit, well, that’s just the worst. CubeSmart is in embroiled in such a legal battle after a man, who was shot while at a storage facility in Antioch, Tenn., has filed a lawsuit claiming the property provided inadequate security.
Identified as “J.K.,” the man told news organizations he was inside his unit when four unidentified men stormed in and shot him multiple times. With five gunshot wounds to his back, chest and stomach, J.K. called 911, then drove himself to a nearby gas station. He said he was later evicted by CubeSmart and given 10 days to clean out his unit.
At the crux of the lawsuit, however, are J.K.’s claims that the shooting could’ve been avoided if the facility had better security. His lawyer calls the area where J.K.’s unit was located an “alley,” disses the 5-foot-high front gate, and says the property’s video cameras weren’t functioning at the time of the shooting.
CubeSmart hasn’t commented due to the pending litigation. Regardless, if there’s any truth behind J.K.’s allegations, there are still some lessons here for all operators. One, security measures are a must! Second, there are steps you can take beyond your security hardware to combat crime. More on that later.
First, let’s talk security components. Self-storage properties have long been the target for criminals, vagrants and others walking on the wrong side of the law. To combat possible theft, unauthorized entry and vandalism, facilities employ a number of security measures, including perimeter fencing and restricted access via an access-control device, security cameras and, more recently, individual unit alarms. All of these measures should really be standard for any reputable storage site.
If your site has “fake” cameras, lacks lighting or allows tenants to use easy-to-cut padlocks, your site is vulnerable. Likewise, there are still many, many self-storage properties that don’t have perimeter fencing and keypad access, especially in rural areas, but this is also changing. Even if your site isn’t in a high-crime neighborhood, your property could still be targeted. It’s not like thieves stick to a 5-mile radius when contemplating a break-in.
Whenever I ask the members of Self-Storage Talk about how they protect their facility from crime, there are always several comment about managers who rely on their favorite firearm to keep the peace. In no way am I advocating that! Rather, there are some more direct approaches operators can take to head off possible problems.
First, stay on top of your property’s maintenance. Fix broken doors. Keep the lots, building, unit doors and parking area clean. Take care of graffiti immediately. Trim overgrown shrubbery or trees. Mend a broken fence line or gate operator. Replace burned-out bulbs and faded signage. An unkempt property invites criminal activity. Rick Beal, district manager and part owner of Cubes Self Storage in Salt Lake City, calls it the “broken windows theory.”
Another thing operators can do is be observant. While some advocate tenant screening to weed out potential problems before a lease is ever signed, you can’t always judge a book by its cover. What you can do is be active at your site. Do several walk-throughs daily, greet your customers as they drive through the gate, stop and chat with them. If something seems off, it probably is. Again, I never recommend acting on your own. Call the authorities. They wear bullet-proof vests and are trained to handle these situations! Never risk your life.
These are just a few ways operators can help prevent crime from happening on their property. If you’re looking for more guidance on self-storage security, be sure to check out the July issue of Inside Self-Storage. It includes in-depth articles on security hardware, how to partner with law enforcement, site safety and more. You can also find articles on the ISS website under the topic “Self-Storage Security.”
What security measures do you rely on to keep your self-storage facility crime-free? Post a comment below or on Self-Storage Talk.