By Keith Monaghan
Republished with permission from “The Self-Storage Manager,” a blog written by facility managers Keith and Janice Monaghan.
As a self-storage manager, you access your tenant files daily. Do you have a system to keep them organized? Without structure, your office will fall to ruin. Is that too dramatic? Maybe.
Organization helps us optimize our time and space. Let’s dive into a practical example of a tenant filing system.
Each tenant should have a physical folder in which you store his files. There are two ways to organize your folders. First, you can have a folder for each tenant. Second, you can have a folder for each unit.
I recommend using the second option because once you create the unit folders, you don’t have to change them. With folders organized by name, you must add and remove folders or labels when tenants move in and out. It’s far better to organize the folders once and leave them alone than to continually change them.
Manila folders come with tabs along the top for labels that describe the folder contents. The tabs are positioned on the left, middle or right. They are staggered this way to make it easy to read the labels. This is a good solution for most situations.
However, in self-storage, unit numbers are usually progressive. They start with a low letter or number and move up. It’s actually easier to search through and find the folder you need if all the tabs line up. Therefore, when you purchase manila folders, find a pack where the tabs are all in the same position. I like folders with tabs in the middle position.
I prefer to print labels rather than handwrite them. It makes them easier to read, and they look more professional. Using printable file labels, print a unit number onto each label exactly the way it appears in your storage software (0264, A-014, etc.). A good label to use is Avery White File Folder Labels for Laser and Inkjet Printers 8478. Using a corresponding template in a program like Microsoft Word will help you line up your unit numbers correctly on the label sheet. Position the unit number in the middle of each label.
Store your tenant files in a file drawer or cabinet. Where you put the folders depends on how many units your facility has. If it has 50 units or fewer, they might comfortably fit into the file drawer of your desk. You’ll be in and out of these files a lot, so make sure they aren’t too crowded.
Use hanging file folders, but only put three to five manila folders in each. When you have a couple long-term tenants in the same hanging folder, it becomes crowded very quickly. Also, the manila folders will start to pop out the top if there are too many in one hanging folder. If they get too high, the file drawer may not close. They’ll also obstruct labels behind them, making it harder to locate other files.
Each company has its own internal logic and processes when it comes to tenant files. The following is a list of items that could be kept if all tenant-related documentation is stored in a physical file as opposed to on the computer. In some cases, there are legal reasons for keeping paper copies of tenant files, so it’s vitally important that they be saved.
- Lease, signed by the tenant and manager
- All signed lease addendums
- Copy of the tenant’s driver’s license (where legal)
- Signed credit card authorization form for tenants who use auto-pay
- New-tenant information and contact sheet
- Any change-of-information forms
- Vacate notice
- Signed rules and regulations
- Hold-harmless form for keys
- Emergency-contact form
Finally, you want to include any important e-mail correspondence with the tenant. This includes any notice to vacate, change of info, or authorization to manually charge a tenant’s credit card. It might also include any e-mails in which the tenant has used strong language. If you have a disagreement with a tenant, it’s always best to keep a paper copy of the full e-mail exchange, including your replies. When in doubt, print it out.
A quick note about credit cards: Never print and store the tenant’s credit card information! Either obscure all but the last four digits of the card number or don’t print it at all. Most storage software has a way to securely save credit card details. Use the software or, if that’s not possible, let the tenant know he’ll have to give you his card information every time he wants to use it.
What about payment receipts? You may not need to store a copy of every one; and if your software keeps backups, you may not need to print them at all. It’s a good idea to keep a signed copy of cash receipts, however. Always get a signature for cash received because you, the manager, are personally responsible for balancing the daily deposits.
This list is only a guideline and should be discussed with your facility owner and perhaps a lawyer to determine what you should file. I like to organize the files in each tenant folder the same way. Find a system that works for you and be consistent.
Keith Monaghan is an expert self-storage manager who thinks customer-first. His business and technical background provide him with insight to how to optimize the self-storage office and experience. Keith and his wife, Janice, manage a facility in Bend, Ore., where they also consult with owners/operators on how to run their facilities. You can read his blog at www.theselfstoragemanager.com.