As self-storage operators, we’re trained to conduct regular walk-throughs of our properties to ensure there are locks on every unit, the site is clean, the number of occupied units matches what’s reported in our software and more. While these are important things to watch to catch issues quickly, there’s something else we can do to improve site security.
How many of you check your gate-access codes each morning to review what happened while you were gone? Your company spent a lot of money on the gate system, software and cameras around the property. These are key features you sell when someone rents a unit. So, why not use them to their full ability? Let’s check out the benefits of reviewing information from your gate software each morning.
Watch for Suspicious Behavior
While break-ins, property damage and other problems can happen any time, they’re most likely to occur after office hours. Pay special attention to any gate codes that were used starting an hour before your gate hours end until you arrive at the facility the next morning. Potential wrongdoers who have property access will enter before being locked out for the night. They want it to appear that they’re just visiting their unit, but they may be angling to be alone on the site or have an excuse to spend the night.
Some gate systems will allow tenants to leave the property regardless of whether it’s past gate hours, while others will lock them in no matter what. In both cases, you can use the software to benefit your facility. If you offer 24-hour access, pay close attention to those entering around 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. These are peak hours for crime.
Make note of any tenants who may have input codes when entering but not when exiting. It may be that they’ve tailgated off the property. Or, they might just stay on the property overnight and leave when someone enters in the morning.
Don’t forget about the cameras. If you see the same tenant often entering the property during the very late or early hours, why not take a few moments to review the video and see what’s going on? With the time stamps from the gate software, it’s easy to crosscheck.
Note anything suspicious such as the tenant walking around to different areas, staying in his unit for long periods or sleeping in his car. Many things can come to light, and this information shows if someone is trying to compromise your facility security. Anyone who does should be immediately evicted. While it isn’t your goal to harass tenants, your mindset should be that you’re there to protect the owner’s asset and tenant belongings.
Watch for Unsafe Codes
Most self-storage operations have a specific gate-code pattern. It might include digits from the tenant’s driver’s license, a combo of birth date and unit number, or you might leave it up to the customer. Unfortunately, someone might pick up on this pattern and, with a few tries, gain access to the facility with someone else’s code.
Gate codes should be at least five digits, as four-digit codes are easy to guess. When tenants choose codes, they tend to use a year that’s important to them or one that’s easy to remember but also simple to guess, such as 1111, 1234, 1379 (corners of the keypad), etc. Even five digits may not be enough.
While we can go on and on about patterns, you should regularly look at your access codes. Open your gate software and click on the report that shows all of them. It doesn't matter if they’re for overlocking, employees or vendors—each code needs to be reviewed. Don’t take it for granted that codes are secure. Even if you have rules to ensure strong codes, customers may not have followed them. If you see codes in your list that leave your site vulnerable, change them.
Look at Code Entries
It’s also a great idea to see how often each gate code is used, and your gate software can usually sort data based on code. Most of you know your tenants’ stories and when they’re on site. If something stands out—for example, you notice one code being used a lot in a single day—it would be wise to investigate. If the tenant hasn’t recently moved in, it could be his code was compromised.
Again, use the cameras to your advantage! Take time to see what the person looks like, what type of vehicle he’s driving, where he’s going on the facility, etc. Compare the information to the lease or any other details you have. If things don’t match up, review past usage of that gate code. With the help of the cameras, you’ll be able to determine when the tenant used the code and when it was used by someone else.
Don’t hesitate to contact the tenant. Tell him you were reviewing the facility-access logs and noticed his gate code was used at a certain time. You want to confirm it was him. If it wasn’t, tell him you’re changing his gate code immediately.
Once you change the code, you may be able to catch the person using it, as gate software will usually list invalid codes used. If the culprit tries the code and fails, look at the code he attempts to use next. If he’s a tenant, he may actually try his own—then you’ve got him! If he tries to guess another common code, you’ll see that, too.
Sometimes, if a tenant has been locked out for lack of payment, may feel an urgency to gain access to the property and retrieve his belongings. He’ll randomly guess at codes until he gets in. Look to see the codes he tried.
The same is true of someone who forgot his code or who’s code isn’t working due to a gate issue. He may attempt a bunch of codes until he finds one that works. This customer will usually call the office the next day for help. In this case, ask which code he used to enter the property. This will help you identify weak spots in your system.
Also, use the time stamps to your advantage. If a locked-out customer was able to gain entry, review the cameras! See if he followed someone in, if he guessed the code or if he’s working with another tenant.
All this information is available just by looking at a report. If you do discover someone is using different gate codes, don’t jump the gun and accuse him of anything. Instead, investigate what’s going on and review the flaws in your system. If someone compromised your security, then take appropriate action.
Communicate With Tenants
An important aspect of your relationship with tenants is transparency. If you notice a customer is staying on the property late, even if you provide 24-hour access, let him know you noticed. Tell him you just want to ensure everything is OK and ask if he’s ever seen or heard anything suspicious. It’ll probably be a gut-check and may prevent him from wrongdoing if he knows someone is watching.
Owners spend a lot of time, money and energy to ensure their facilities are well-respected and protected. Use your security features, including your gate software, to your advantage. Ensure codes aren’t easy to guess and are used only by authorized parties. Be proactive in reaching out to tenants when their code is in question. They’ll feel safer that you went that extra step. If they’re up to no good, it’ll put them on notice that you’re different from others.
While there are other things to review with gate codes, these are main issues that happen at many facilities. Be proactive and give customers a reason to trust your facility. You’re the difference!
Matthew Eoff has worked in several positions in the self-storage industry over the past eight years, including part-time manager, maintenance employee and area manager overseeing six California locations. He shares information to improve the industry community. With his background as a military police officer, he takes pride in analyzing situations and can translate trends and predictable outcomes. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-eoff-a59666139.