As jurisdictions around the world issue shelter-in-place orders in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many self-storage operations have been able to remain open for use, having been identified as “essential” businesses. Now they must function under constantly changing government advice. Following are suggestions on how to manage a storage facility in an emergency lockdown.
Move-Ins and Move-Outs
The reality is some customers will need self-storage even now. Many businesses are shutting down and require a secure place to store their goods. College students who’ve had to leave school early and people who are moving might also need the service.
Our advice is to allow for only essential move-ins and move-outs. The British Association of Removers offers this guidance for movers: “The member should only complete any moves that are underway and immediately cancel or postpone any move that has not yet started.”
It’s important to note that customers can still vacate if they indicate it’s urgent and comply with government advice. It’s their decision, and you can’t prevent them from doing so.
Not surprisingly, many self-storage operators are receiving requests from customers to forego paying their rent during the COVID-19 crisis or at least during the lockdown period. Some tenants may fall behind on payments.
In the United Kingdom, the legal advice is that while you’re still providing storage, you have the right to charge a fee for that even if you aren’t able to provide facility access. The Standard Self Storage License Agreement in use by the Self Storage Association of the United Kingdom contains a provision that facility operators do not have to provide access in certain situations. However, it has never been tested at this level, and if the lockdown continues for a significant period, it might change.
You also should consider the general community mood on this issue. Many businesses including banks, utility and telecom companies are helping people in need during this crisis.
Our advice would be to use discretion with customers who have a genuine issue with payment. For example, some Italian self-storage operators are only charging 50 percent fees after the committed move-out date for anyone who advised they were moving out before the lockdown. The decision on how to manage these customers is, of course, for each storage provider to decide individually. If you do provide customer relief, clearly document this and ensure the relief has an endpoint, even if it’s defined as a period after the store operates under normal conditions.
Other Key Practices
Here are some additional things your self-storage operation should be doing during the lockdown:
- Advise customers that while the store remains open, only those tenants who provide essential services and businesses are allowed access, and they must follow all government guidance. If you don’t believe your store has these types of customers, you should close.
- Deter residential customers from visiting the store, as this is unlikely to be “essential travel.”
- If you can manage your store remotely, do so.
- If staff need to be in the store, limit to one person at a time.
- Reception and office areas should be closed to customers and reserved for staff use exclusively. Minimizing contact between tenants and employees will help keep everyone safe.
- It’s vital that you follow the government recommendation for social distancing. Here in the U.K., that’s a minimum of 2 meters apart.
- Don’t sell merchandise unless absolutely necessary.
- Remain vigilant with your health and hygiene program.
- When sending notifications to tenants, communicate clearly that the store is only open for customers who provide essential services and business. Advise them that the office and reception areas will be closed, and they must practice social distancing.
- If you close your store, contact all customers beforehand. Also, display emergency-contact details prominently on all entry points to notify customers of the closure.
Following these essential best practices at your self-storage facilities during the coronavirus crisis will help ensure you’re doing your part to “flatten the curve.” Operating in a lockdown environment is unprecedented but can be managed by following government advice.
Rennie Schafer is CEO of the Federation of European Self Storage Associations and the Self Storage Association of the United Kingdom. For more information, visit www.fedessa.org.