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Providing Tenant Privacy and Security While Protecting Your Self-Storage Business

Online privacy and security
There can be a fine line between protecting your self-storage business and providing privacy and security for your tenants. Consider these your rules to live by, and you’ll tackle safeguarding like a pro.

By Krista Diamond

They say a self-storage facility is only as good as its tenants. OK, so maybe that’s not a popular expression quite yet, but it should be. An ideal tenant is respectful, tidy and financially responsible. As a facility manager, you work hard to get the business of those quality individuals. You meet them, learn their needs, check their photo IDs, verify their addresses, and maybe even run a credit or background check.

While it’s important to protect your business, it’s also vital to look after your customers. You want to respect their privacy while keeping your facility safe, clean and desirable to future customers. So where’s the line? How do you meet your own goals while honoring tenant privacy and delivering a much-needed sense of security? Consider these your rules to live by, and you’ll tackle safeguarding like a pro.

Give Them Security They Can See

Privacy and security go hand-in-hand. Your tenants want to keep their stuff safe and feel comfortable coming to your facility. Nothing scares off a prospect faster than unsavory characters lurking around on either side of the fence.

This should be a no-brainer, but respecting tenants’ privacy starts with giving them physical security. Alarms, cameras and code access gates will start you in the right direction. Oh, and make sure customers actually know how to use any security measures you’ve put in place. This will cut back on those frustrated phone calls from tenants who aren’t sure whether to push the pound key or asterisk on the gate keypad.

Keep the property well-lit, especially if you’re allowing 24-hour access. Speaking of which, by restricting round-the-clock access to those who actually need it—and are willing to pay a fee for the privilege—you’ll do a lot to increase safety.

If you provide locks, go for disc locks rather than padlocks. If you don’t provide locks, encourage tenants to choose this style. They’re designed with self-storage facilities in mind and are pretty much impossible to cut or pick; plus they hold up to the elements.

Another thing you can provide or suggest to renters is quality tenant insurance. They might not realize your property insurance doesn’t actually cover their stuff, too. Let them know tenant insurance is typically cheaper than most renter’s insurance. They should also photograph or inventory anything they put in their unit to make filing a claim super easy, just in case the worst happens. However, with your awesome attention to safety details, it probably won’t!

Protect Their Personal Info

Besides trusting you with their possessions, tenants trust you with their personal information. When you see news stories about companies being hacked, it’s hard not to wonder if the next data breach might affect you.

The best way to protect your lease information is to be proactive. Make sure all data is encrypted. Don’t panic if you’re not computer-savvy—this isn’t actually as complicated as it sounds. Encrypting something basically means scrambling it so it’s useless to anyone who gets their hands on it. There are several software options available to make this painless on your end. If you don’t know if your management software provides encryption, ask your vendor.

Another way to protect your tenant information is to take a lesson from your favorite luxury hotel. Have you ever noticed a professional hotel employee won’t ever say your room number out loud? Avoid repeating sensitive information like unit numbers and contact information while in earshot of others. And if you’re not already destroying paperwork containing credit card and Social Security numbers, you owe it to your tenants and yourself to invest in a good shredder.

Control Access

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: When in doubt, the tenant comes first. Let’s say a woman enters your office claiming to be the girlfriend of one of your tenants. She says there’s something in the unit she needs, and it’s urgent. She tells you she has permission to access the unit. She could be telling the truth, and letting her in could save you some hassle in the short term; but it would be the wrong move.

Before you entertain the question of access, consider if you even want to acknowledge the tenant in question has a unit at your facility. Again, think about the practices of a hotel. If you call a resort to inquire if a guest is staying there, you’ll be denied.

In the same way, if someone who isn’t on a lease wants information about a tenant, you don’t have to give it to him. Instead, discretely check to see if the person is authorized or an emergency contact. If not, call the tenant directly. Calmly explain the policy to both your tenant and the person trying to get into the unit. You might be doing your tenant a favor by thwarting an attempted break-in. Have some foresight and back this all up by including a clearly worded clause in your lease agreement that states who can gain access.

Of course, in the world of self-storage, there will be rare exceptions to the rule. If the police are involved and have a search warrant, there isn’t much required from you. If they don’t have a warrant, however, you aren’t obligated to provide any access or information.

Be Clear About Policies

Tenants rent storage units for all kinds of reasons. While it’s rare for someone to intentionally stores hazardous materials, tenants will occasionally put unsavory or even dangerous items in their units. If you suspect someone is storing something illegal or even deadly, you might have to enter his storage unit.

This is another area where you need to be clear in your lease. Make sure tenants know that for security and maintenance reasons, you may have to enter a unit from time to time. Let them know you don’t want to violate their privacy, but if you suspect there’s a safety hazard, you’re going to handle it. Explain this policy in writing and in person, and let them know that if they only store appropriate items, it will likely never be an issue.

Encourage them to ask questions about items that are and aren’t suitable. Be gentle. You don’t want them to feel like you’re threatening them with an inspection. Sometimes just having a friendly chat with someone will help them realize the weird thing they’re thinking about storing is actually unsafe. By communicating your rules and listening to tenants’ needs, you’ll save each other a lot of time.

Know How to Handle Sketchy Behavior

If you encounter a tenant whose actions are off—for example, you suspect he’s living in the unit—be direct. If you have a customer who asks about power outlets, never locks his unit, enters the premises frequently without items to store or is swiping tons of paper towels from your public restroom, you might have a resident. This is troubling and surprisingly common. There are even YouTube tutorials that show those living in storage units how to draw power via socket adaptors.

Make sure your lease clearly states tenants can’t loiter around units, live in them or have the door closed when they’re inside. Describe what course of action you’ll take if a unit is unlocked. Inform new tenants about the security measures you have in place. Let them know you personally make a habit of patrolling the grounds. If this isn’t enough to deter someone from living in a unit, you can slide a warning letter under the door as a first action. They’ll get it if they’re inside. Or you can immediately respond by entering the unit.

Even though this situation is challenging, try to be compassionate. It’s well within your rights to evict a tenant for this behavior, but you don’t have to throw him out on the street. Call a shelter or refer him to one. You might even want to consider having a list of resources handy.

Above all, look out for yourself, your employees and customers. If the thought of entering the storage unit of a live-in scares you, call the police for backup. The individual is committing a civil offense rather than a criminal one, so having officers with you will mostly be for peace of mind, but you’ll be grateful for it.

Don’t Forget Great Service

Customers aren’t always right (shhhh), but they do come first. Remember that when you’re explaining your privacy policies to them, and it’ll benefit you. The security officer patrolling the facility on a golf cart isn’t suspicious of them, he’s keeping them safe. You’re not denying their friends access to be a jerk, you’re doing it to protect their personal information. You’re not opening a closed, unlocked storage unit to invade someone’s privacy, you’re making sure there isn’t a person who accidentally got trapped inside.

Be firm in your policies. Make your lease clear. Account for all loopholes. Be direct with your tenants if they have questions or appear to be storing something they shouldn’t. But be nice about it. Deliver great service along with your high standards and your tenants will be safe, secure and happy to give you their business.

Krista Diamond is a staff writer for StorageFront, which allows self-storage customers to custom search and compare thousands of facilities. She’s a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and lives Las Vegas. When she isn't writing about storage, she’s climbing mountains in the desert. For more information, visit www.storagefront.com.

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