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Screening Your Self-Storage Tenants: Preventing Internal Threats to Your Business

In today’s tech-savvy world, gate passcodes and surveillance cameras aren’t always enough to prevent theft at a self-storage facility. Operators should consider screening their tenants to weed out criminal opportunists.

June 22, 2016

5 Min Read
Screening Your Self-Storage Tenants: Preventing Internal Threats to Your Business

By Lubabah Memon

As a self-storage operator, you have a pretty big responsibility on your hands: You need to ensure the security of the entire facility as well as the units within so tenants’ belongings aren’t vulnerable to theft. Although you may have taken multiple steps to safeguard your property, you’ll continue to face new challenges every day.

You would think your security measures would be enough to keep out thieves, but sometimes they’re not. Criminals are getting smarter and more strategic. To them, storage facilities can be untapped gold mines, and they’re figuring out how to get around your defenses. In today’s tech-savvy world, gate passcodes and surveillance cameras aren’t always enough to prevent someone from getting to their sought-out treasures.

In fact, the easiest way to get around your security is to become a tenant. This may be shocking, but if you think about it, it’s quite brilliant. A thief who’s a tenant has easy access to units and can literally walk right past you without causing a doubt in your mind. You might have a break-in every month, increase security accordingly, and never know the burglar was right under your nose the whole time.

What’s even worse is these crimes won’t just cost you time and money, they’ll cost you customers and your company’s reputation as well. Let’s talk about ways you can prevent one of your tenants from becoming the victim of another.

Put on Your Detective Hat

The best thing you can do is initiate strict tenant-screening practices that include background, credit and rental-history checks. You can also consider fingerprinting tenants and obtaining their Social Security numbers. This can seem a little extreme, and not all customers will be willing to jump through these hoops to rent a storage unit. You’ll need to decide if potentially losing some business is worth keeping your facility extra secure.

Essentially, you’re looking for red flags. The focus should be on individuals who’ve committed theft-related or violent crimes as well those who have a history of late or defaulted payments. Even something unrelated like missing child-support payments could be a cause for concern. A tenant’s history with all of these things can tell you a lot about whether he’s reliable or a risk.

Background checks can be a bit costly, but it’s better to invest in them than to risk a break-in. There are some cheaper and more efficient ways to get consumer information as well. Getting courthouse records can be time-consuming, so you might consider Internet databases such as Criminal Searches, Search Systems and Virtual Gumshoe. However, be careful and keep the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in mind. The act places some restrictions on landlords and typically applies to all landowners, including storage owners and managers.

For unofficial checks, you can try a simple Internet search. However, the FCRA states that if a landlord denies a lease, it must be based on a report prepared by a Consumer Reporting Agency. He must provide written documentation or an adverse-action notice that states why he has done any of the following:

  • Denied a lease application

  • Required a co-signer on the lease

  • Required a deposit that isn’t required from other tenants

  • Required a larger deposit than that required from other tenants

  • Charged a higher rent than that charged for other applicants

If done correctly, tenant screenings can actually be used as a selling point. Knowing these checks are taking place will make customers feel more secure because they’ll see you’re doing everything in your power to keep their belongings safe. However, you don’t want to scare away potential clients who don’t have the best credit score, so emphasize the focus of the screenings.

Make Tough Decisions

There are other important things to keep in mind when performing background screenings. First, you must check all tenants equally so you’re not sued for discrimination and no one falls through the cracks. A little old lady who brings you apple pie may not seem like a criminal, but you have to screen her anyway.

Second, pay special attention to commercial tenants. Sure, they bring in great business, but when the paperwork is signed, it’s usually by the company owner or someone else in charge. You’re screening the person signing the lease, not everyone who’ll have access to the unit. The employer may give his staff access to the space. In this case, you have a few options. You can:

  • Screen everyone who has access to the unit, which requires a lot of work and has a high potential for mistakes

  • Refuse to accept commercial tenants, which can be a big loss

  • Tell the renter he needs to limit the number of employees who have access and screen that group, which is likely the best compromise

Even married couples or families can present a challenge. For example, you might go through a background check and do everything you can to ensure a potential tenant is a good candidate, but his significant other, sibling, etc., might be another case entirely. Be clear with tenants that only people who’ve been screened can access the property.

Tenant screening will consume time and money, but it can be worth it to decrease the chances of theft at your facility. It’s actually a small investment considering the return. Make screening a regular practice at your facility. The benefits outweigh the costs!

Lubabah Memon is a copywriter for StorageFront, an online marketplace for self-storage consumers. In her free time, she likes to bike on California’s beaches and spend time with her family and friends. For more information, visit www.storagefront.com.

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