Most self-storage facilities have gates, motion-sensor lighting, keypad access, security cameras, infrared beams or a combination of these security components. These are supported by business hours intended to keep out people with nefarious purposes who wish to access the property under the cover of darkness.
At my facility, we’ve posted signs all over to remind tenants they need to be off the premises by a certain time or they’ll be trapped at the property and in violation of their lease. Even so, it still happens. Sometimes people forget, or they just don’t care about the rules, or both.
Following is an encounter I recently had with a customer who stayed after hours. What I realized was that even with all the security I have in place, sometimes sleuthing and being a “Nosy Nellie” is the thing that’s needed to keep the facility safe.
Our Practice and Policy
When I rent a unit, I emphasize our office and facility access hours, and tell the new tenant he must be out by 10 p.m., because that’s when our gate and building doors lock. I also explain that if he does get trapped after hours, the number to call is on the gate. I warn that if he calls, it goes to our 24-hour tow company, which will give him a gate code at the price of $150. All these practices have worked well, and I haven’t had a tenant on the premises past closing for a long time—until this month.
Before I share what happened, let me set the stage. When I come into the office each morning, I conduct my walk-through and go through the entrance/exit logs in our software. Per our company policy, if someone has cut it close, say 9:55 p.m., I send an email to remind him of our hours of operation and the consequences of failing to comply. I also remind him that he agreed to these terms in the rental agreement, and close with “thank you for working with us to keep the security and safety of our storage a priority.”
Solving a Mystery
One day, I noticed a new tenant had tried to exit the property way past 10 p.m. I sent the obligatory email and went to check the security footage, on which I saw an unfamiliar woman and man trying to leave the property. Of course, both the gate and building doors were locked. I watched as they tried to leave, then park and hunker down to go to sleep. I watched the footage until I was satisfied that they hadn’t tried to get into any trouble. Our camera system records movement, so that makes it easier to track.
In general, if I don’t hear back from a tenant after sending my access-reminder email, I’ll follow up with a text and phone call. This is important because it potentially gives you a jumpstart on what could be a security issue or theft. In this scenario, the tenant responded, “Why are you sending me this? What happened?”
I immediately locked her access code and explained what I knew about the incident. After several hours, she replied, “It was my daughter and her boyfriend. I forgot to tell them the hours, and they couldn’t afford what the tow company charged, so they slept in the parking lot. It won’t happen again.” I wrote up an incident report and put copious notes in the tenant’s file.
Set the Expectation
At this point, I have a few options. I can condition this tenant’s access and allow her on the property only during office hours. I can stipulate that her daughter isn’t welcome on site. I’ve decided to hold back any punitive response unless I see another issue.
I take security seriously. I’ve literally shown up at my facility in my pajamas to throw someone off the property after hours! Train your tenants from the beginning by stating your expectations at the time of rental. It’ll make your operation smoother, and you’ll get more rentals if you have a reputation for safety. So, be nosy, look at your tenant comings and goings, and follow up on anything out of the ordinary!
Kris Fetter is a property manager for Newcastle Heated Storage in Newcastle, Wash. She’s a mom, armed forces veteran and genealogist. With eight years of industry experience, Kris has managed three facilities, including properties in Charlotte, N.C., and San Diego. For more information, connect with her on Self-Storage Talk, where her username is KrisinWA.