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Community Relations: Ways for Self-Storage Operators to Avoid and Resolve Conflicts With Neighbors

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As a self-storage operator, you aim to be a valuable member of the community your facility serves. However, conflicts with local residents and businesses can and do sometimes arise. The author shares real-life examples and how her company resolved them.

Many self-storage facilities are within or near residential areas. As operators, we’re part of the community and have a duty to be a good neighbor. In fact, it’s critical to our ability to rent units! That said, there can sometimes be conflicts with local residents and businesses, not just during the planning and building phase of a self-storage project, but even once the facility is up and running.

To maintain good standing in the public eye, it’s important that any disagreement be handled quickly and professionally. How you manage your public relations directly impacts facility success. Whatever the issue, it’s wise to work things out. You never know who might be a potential tenant or source of referrals.

You can’t always avoid conflict, and defusing a situation may be challenging. However, if you put your community first, it’ll be easier to come to a resolution that pleases neighbors, and your self-storage business will be viewed more favorably. Below are a few contentious situations my company has faced and how we fixed them.

Bright Lights, Big Fight

We own and manage a self-storage facility that’s directly in front of an apartment complex. The two properties coexisted peacefully for years—until we upgraded our exterior lighting. We were excited about the new LEDs, but one of the apartment residents wasn’t at all thrilled.

We started receiving calls at all hours of the night regarding our new lights. The disgruntled party said he was having a hard time sleeping due to the brightness. We knew we needed to resolve the situation, but first we needed a plan. One thing was certain: We weren’t going to revert to our old lighting. The LEDs were beneficial and had been an expensive upgrade.

When we reached out to the resident, we explained that the new lighting wasn’t only valuable to us and our tenants but to all residents in the area. It also allowed our cameras to capture better footage of the facility and apartment complex. We recommended he purchase black-out curtains to block the light from streaming into his apartment. He was happy with our suggestion, and we were glad to keep our new fixtures.

A Thief Among Us

A facility we managed remotely was in a high-crime area. One evening, a burglar broken into several units, then fled the site and hopped over the back fence into a neighbor’s yard. He then broke into her house, where he stole jewelry and a gun. Unfortunately, it turned out the thief was one of our tenants.

The neighbor was obviously concerned that the robber had come from our property. We knew we needed to improve our security and leasing practices. We hired a guard to patrol in the evenings and required new tenants to provide a copy of their ID. Our remote managers also began to use more caution when renting units at this location.

Going to the Prairie Dogs

In another instance, a facility we were developing was about to get its building permit. During a city council meeting, several residents voiced concerns about prairie dogs that lived on the site. They were worried the animals would be displaced due to the construction.

We were happy to work with them to come up with a solution that would cause the smallest amount of disruption. We decided the best option would be to hire a professional animal rescue. It wasn’t in our schedule or budget, but we adjusted both to accommodate the need, and the prairie dogs were moved to a more natural habitat. In the end, residents were satisfied, and we were able to continue with our project.

Not in My Back Yard

Another facility we were building was in front of large, single-family housing development, right off a main thoroughfare. Our lot was zoned commercial, but one of the residents was unhappy about the project being built at the gateway of the neighborhood. He posted a review on Facebook and Google, sent us many emails, and used other forms of digital communication to express his concerns.

We knew we needed to reach out to this resident but didn’t want to continue the conversation in the public eye. We asked for his phone number, which he refused to supply, forcing us to communicate via email.

We offered to give him a look at our landscaping plans and take him on a tour of the property. We explained that we also lived in the area. We pointed out that any commercial business could build on the lot, but we cared about our community and promised to be a good neighbor. While he declined to take a tour, he was finally satisfied by our assurances.

Complex Problems, Simple Solutions

A conflict with your community can feel complex, but the solution is often simple. Many times, it boils down to communication. Listen to what your neighbor is trying to say and work with him to find workable options. Do everything you can to make local residents and businesses happy. It is possible for your self-storage facility to be a valued member of the area. Whether you have a site under development or you’re up and running, you’re part of the group, and how you respond to concerns affects your ability to succeed.

If you do receive a complaint, stay calm, make a plan, reach out and do what you can to control the conversation. Give the upset party time to express his concerns or displeasure, and show empathy. Most of the time, you can find a positive path to resolution, and maybe even earn a new customer in the process!

Denise Bowley is the owner of Self Storage Science LLC, a property-management company specializing in self-storage. A licensed real estate agent in Texas, Denise has served the self-storage industry for more than 25 years, opening dozens of new facilities and integrating acquired facilities into her platform. She has experience in setting company policies and currently supervises nearly 40 staff members. She also oversees the accounting department. To reach her, e-mail [email protected].

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