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Wrangling and Securing Your Self-Storage Paperwork

We may be living in the Digital Age, but paper still plays a major role in our lives. While many self-storage operators are phasing out printed documents, there are still some instances when they’re necessary. Consider this guidance to securing and storing your physical paperwork, plus why you should consider adding digital to the mix.

Amy Campbell

February 3, 2023

4 Min Read

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the auto shop getting repairs for my vehicle. As I was standing at the counter, the employee pulled out a three-sheet form to complete with pen. He punched in my phone number on the computer, then copied information onto the document, which I then signed. I had to ask why there was necessary paperwork when all my info was already in the computer. Couldn’t any notes just be applied to my digital account? He gestured to the stacks and stacks of files behind him and told me it’s a state requirement. Although all information and completed vehicle repairs are stored digitally, they must also be in paper form and sent to the state for record-keeping. He admitted it was a major hassle to do the double work.

You might not be surprised there’s a government mandate that requires a paper trail, even in the digital age. But that’s not the only place where people are still completing forms by hand, even if the info is already housed in a database. I’ve done so at multiple doctor offices. Rather than just ask if I have any changes, they force me to write all my details on a poorly printed copy of a document that’s been around for years. I’m sure you can relate.

Many self-storage operators have made the move to lighten the paper load—for renters and the business itself. Industry technology vendors have made huge advances in the past few years that have helped in this endeavor. More operators are embracing electronic leases and emailed payment receipts. Some self-storage management software also enables automatic collection efforts via text and email, so there’s no need to send letters stashed in an envelope.

If you’re interested in how industry tech can help, check out our new gallery on the topic. It offers insight on innovative products from eight self-storage vendors. You can read about what's new and how these awesome tools can help your business.

Over the past few years, many states have also updated their lien statutes, making the process easier. For example, in South Dakota and Vermont, operators can now send default notices via email. While this isn’t the case in every state, it’s a welcome benefit for operators who are looking to eliminate paper correspondence.

Even though many operators are switching to digital files, paper is still necessary in some instances. You might have tenants who insist on printed receipts and leases. Or your state could have certain requirements you must meet that necessitate physical documents. How are you handling these important papers? Wrangling it is no easy task, especially if you don’t have a system in place that organizes the various pieces. Imagine having to thumb through mounds of paper documents while a tenant waits impatiently for you to find something. No thanks!

Moreover, critical paperwork should be physically protected. Rental agreements, for example, contain private information including names, addresses and unit numbers. While cyberattacks are more common to attain personal information, don’t eliminate the possibility of a thief going after your paperwork. You also must protect employee information, particularly if it contains sensitive information like Social Security Numbers. In addition, you likely have a fair amount of business records that should be under lock and key.

If your paper game is in disarray, it’s time to get a handle on it. Invest in a shredder, a filing cabinet with a lock, folders, and a label maker or premade ones. You also need a system that works for you. For tenant files, alphabetical by last name and first initial works. You can then subdivide them by year, so current tenant files take precedence. Chronological is another option. Color coding and labels are your best friend here. It’ll likely be a huge undertaking at first, but once you have a system in place it’ll be a breeze to organize and find everything. Also, don’t be afraid to turn on that shredder when necessary. Speak with your lawyer to find out how long you need to keep documents from former tenants, then destroy what you don’t need.

You might even take the next step—transferring your physical paperwork into digital files. Again, you must be organized. Naming files is even more important when they’re digital. Think short names with keywords to make finding them easy. Scanning can take time, but it’ll also help you purge unnecessary files.

Once you have a system, you need to maintain it. It can be easy to just toss stuff into a pile when you’re busy, but don’t let your efforts be wasted. You can take time daily or at the end of each week to sort it all and put everything in its proper place. Use a small basket that fills quickly to keep you on track. An open cardboard box can easily become a wasteland and will be tougher to tackle later.

Although I’m trying hard to make the move to go digital whenever possible, like choosing an emailed receipt over a printed one, I admit I still prefer paper in many instances, and you may, too. You just need to find the balance that works best for your business and customers.

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Editor, Inside Self Storage

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