Amy Campbell, Senior Editor

February 27, 2009

3 Min Read
Turning Over Tenant Info ... Virginia to Violate Self-Storage Privacy

This week, House Bill 2289 passed the General Assembly in Virginia, which means self-storage operators may soon have to start forking over the contact information of out-of-state residents who store recreational vehicles at their facilities. If the governor signs it, the bill will go into effect on July 1, and as of Jan. 1, 2010, any RVs and boats stored in self-storage by out-of-state residents will be taxed by the state. Commissioners of revenue can accomplish this only with the cooperation of the self-storage industry, as they cannot enter our facilities (private property) to collect the necessary information themselves. It's being viewed as a lost-revenue opportunity.

Talk about a Pandora's Box. Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, the bill's sponsor, says the taxes are fair because Virginians are taxed on their RVs and boats. This bill assumes out-of-state RV owners are not already being charged property tax for these purchases in their own states; if they are, they're getting a double hit. But the tax issue aside, what precedent does this legislation set for privacy rights in self-storage? What doors does it open?

As self-storage managers and operators, you are the gatekeepers of a wealth of information, and I'm not just talking about the data written on a rental agreement. Yes, you are the protectors of names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers—all extremely sensitive material. But you also know the names (and sometimes contact information) of certain tenants' relatives, spouses, significant others, co-workers and friends. You might even know what tenants are storing. Often, you know their stories.

For example, you know that Martha rented a unit because her husband caught her cheating and kicked her butt to the curb. The Smiths are storing with you because Mr. and Mrs. were laid off and they had to sell their home, downsizing to a two-bedroom apartment with their two kids. ABC Company had to move into a smaller office and needed a place to store its inventory, which, by the way, consists of X, Y and Z product. Mike bought a motorcycle without telling his wife and keeps it in one of your units until "the time is right" to break the news. Joe ... well, Joe just needs a place to sit and fondle his baseball-card collection without being nagged by his now-live-in mother-in-law.

Forgive me for indulging in a few self-storage stereotypes, but you get my drift: You possess a great deal of personal information about your tenants, some of it standard, much of it stuff you can only know when you work in a business like this one, neck deep in peoples' drama. Until now, you were only obligated to give up portions of that information to officials when there was a crime involved, usually after being presented with a warrant. (Read "What to Do When Police Arrive" for more info on this.)

Now there will potentially be a law in place that says Virginia operators have to hand over tenant information to help the state pursue "tax evaders." What do you think about this? How does it affect your role as a self-storage operator or manager? Will it have a negative impact on business for operations in Virginia? Big Brother, here we come ... yet another among a million small ways in which human privacy is whittled away, piece by precious piece. Let me know your thoughts.

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Senior Editor, Inside Self Storage

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