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If you’re a veteran in the self storage industry, then you’ve probably heard about the increasing issues concerning live-in renters. Facilities in New Jersey, Hawaii, Texas, and Florida have already experienced some fairly serious instances of tenants moving into their rented storage units with the intention of living there.
Perhaps you’ve already encountered the problem at one of your storage facilities. Even if you haven’t, the phenomenon is an interesting one and, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking yourself a single, sincere question:
As a storage owner, you know better than anyone else that a storage unit is a less than ideal place to live. You probably know a thing or two about the legal issues that come with live-in renters, too. With that in mind, what would make a person or family want to move into a storage unit?
Online forums are havens for shameless speculation. Spend enough time on any public forum and you’ll find many inquisitive folks posing questions like, “Would you live in a storage unit if you lost your home, money, and job?” and “Is it illegal to move into a storage unit?”
It appears that people are interested in the thought of moving into a storage unit because it presents an opportunity to stash some extra cash. From a purely financial standpoint, it’s understandable that a storage unit would seem like a tempting home.
Take, for instance, prices on comparable spaces. I pulled nearby information for a 10'x30' storage unit and an average studio apartment space – both within five miles of one another and our office at storEDGE.
Note the discernible price difference between the spaces. Even though you know that the studio apartment includes all kinds of amenities that the storage unit doesn’t (including legal permission to live within it), let’s entertain the comparison a little further:
Say that you did live in a reasonably priced, reasonably sized studio apartment for your area. If you were to trade in your apartment for a storage unit you may find similar savings to these listed below:
The price per square foot in your old studio apartment is, perhaps unbelievably, about twice as much as a new, spacious storage unit. So, by switching to a storage unit, you would save more than $2,000 in rent payments over the course of a year.
Even if you could afford a more pricey dwelling space, think of how you could use that saved money to pay off debts or provide more essentials for your family. This is why many people willingly choose to live in storage units.
While some view the prospect of living in a storage unit as a way to quickly save more in their budget, others are simply desperate to make ends meet.
Keith Morelli’s article in The Tampa Tribune explores the increasing trend of homeless turning to self storage units for shelter. Lesa Weikel, with the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, explains why storage units are a viable option for those who are living off extremely sparse incomes or no incomes at all: “People are just trying to find some place safe that they can afford.”
With the number of security features that many storage facilities promote, it’s understandable why a unit would seem like a safe alternative to a pricey apartment.
If you search for homelessness in your area, you’ll find that a number of different news stories, statistics, and helpful resources populate the search results page. For my own search, Synergy Services, established right here in KC, educates users about its integrated programs and how they have positively affected more than 40,000 people in 2012 alone. I’m betting you can find similar information for your area. When you look at the numbers and facts for your city and truly put yourself in the mindset of an individual or family facing dangerous economic times, a storage unit doesn’t seem like such a bad place to turn.
If you ever find yourself confronted with a live-in renter, if may be difficult to stick to your guns, especially after exploring the extreme financial difficulties that many Americans are facing. But let’s not forget that there are some very relevant concerns that arise when people move into your units. Amy Campbell does a great job of laying these concerns out in her article about preventing self storage tenants from living on site.
Storage units are unsafe to live in. Even if the price of a large storage unit is better than the price of an average studio apartment, the space provided by that unit is meant for personal or professional belongings – not people. While an apartment may be more expensive than even the largest unit, that apartment is equipped with basic necessities like plumbing and various utilities, like heating and air conditioning. When you look the other way upon discovering a live-in renter in an attempt to be compassionate, you may very well be compromising their safety in the process.
Live-in renters compromise the security of the storage facility. When you advertise your units, security usually comes up as a selling point, right? Many homeowners and businesspeople look to self storage for the safekeeping of valuable, sensitive, or sentimental items. While you can never absolutely guarantee that their belongings will be safe, take a moment to think about what your other customers (and potential renters) would say if they knew you were housing even one live-in renter.
One live-in renter may start a domino effect. Imagine that your personal feelings outweigh your concerns and you allow one renter to live in his storage unit until they get back on their feet. What do you do when they tell their friends about your compassion? Or when the news inevitably spreads between your other customers in a mystery shopper review? Once people discover that you’re willing to look the other way, it will be more and more difficult to turn people down.
As owner, you will be held liable for damages if you allow a renter to live in a storage unit. Say that you’re away from the facility and one of your employees or customers is attacked by a live-in renter. If you know a renter is living in one of your storage units and you don’t take action to remove them, you can be held liable for any injury or damages that may happen. Allowing a live-in renter to continue to live in your facility is taking a gamble that something may or may not happen. Are you willing to take that risk?
Storage facilities are commercial (not residential) businesses. Though the price may be enticing and some people may begin to wonder “why not?”, there are too many factors that differentiate a commercially zoned property from a residential area. From insurance differences to unsuitable living quarters to many states outlawing live-in renters, you end up putting too many people in danger by trying to help out just one live-in renter.
We’ve established some very good reasons why you simply cannot allow a tenant to move into their unit. But how can you actively prevent against it? Luckily, there are many ways that you can go about avoiding this issue, ranging from big changes to your facility to small steps you can take in your day-to-day activities.
Provide training to educate your staff. You probably put a good chunk of thought into who you hire on as staff for your facility, and for good reason. For new employees, consider including a section of training that demonstrates your approach to live-in renters. If you’re comfortable with the staff you have now, go through recent live-in renter stories with them and get them on board with the steps you take to prevent the issue. You could even do something as simple as directing them to this post and getting a signature of their dedication to contribute to your efforts.
Make your storage units uncomfortable to live in. This can be anything from installing motion-detected lights inside your units to shutting off all hot water in the facility. While it’s up to you to decide how far you want to go and what seems plausible for your business, consider ways you can ensure that your units are desirable for self storage and self storage only.
Offer a “transition assistance program” to your community. If your community has fallen into economic hardship, a helpful program can be a creative way to lend a hand while still maintaining the security of your storage facility. This Hawaii facility provided four months of free storage for individuals experiencing residential hardship. By doing so, you’ll help local residents enjoy a lighter load when selling their homes and you can play a part in their financial recovery without compromising the well-being and security of your facility.
Keep a gate log and check it regularly. A gate log is an excellent way to keep track of who and when tenants are entering and exiting your storage facility. You can keep a hard copy, an electronic one, or both if you prefer. The key to running an effective gate log is to check it regularly. Whether it’s every hour or every week, choose your frequency and then be consistent. By simply keeping tabs on who is spending several hours on facility property or who isn’t checking out, you can likely spot a problem quickly.
Schedule regular check-ups of the storage units. Again, set the schedule and then stick to it. A simple step would be checking on the units once every month. By simply looking into the units, you can tell if a renter seems to have transformed the area into a living space. You can even use this opportunity to do regular maintenance on the units, checking the lights, locks, and insulation of the space. Want to keep your customers in the know? Outline in their agreements that you’ll conduct random check-ups on a monthly basis and let them know that it is for their safety and the safety of their belongings.
Check video recordings against your gate log. If a renter is managing to live in one of your storage units for a long period of time, then it’s likely that you haven’t taken simple steps to pay attention. Many facilities advertise 24-hour surveillance systems but never check the footage. Make a promise to yourself now that you’ll be vigilant and check out the cameras against the records of your gate log. You may be surprised at what you learn about your facility.
Check your rental agreement. If there isn’t one already, make sure that there is a section in your rental contract that outlines the prohibition of live-in renters. Anytime you sign a new renter (short term or long term), draw attention to this section and ask for their initials next to it. Perhaps you could even include any number of the above reasons why storage units are not suitable living spaces for renters. This one step will make your stance clear and potentially help you out legally should a renter decide to move in unnoticed.
Keep pamphlets for local shelters/resources in the office. Even though you have a business to run, you can still be sensitive to the financial struggles of those around you. Try keeping pamphlets of local shelters, food kitchens, and other resources in your facility office – especially if you know that many people in your community are losing their jobs or falling on economic hardship. While this step may not directly prevent a renter from moving in, it can point them in the right direction of getting help before they think about living in one of your units.
Even if you agree with the points I’ve made or find that the preventative steps listed here are plausible, you could have initial difficulty sticking to them in the face of a desperate renter. Whether you’re approached by a straightforward customer or you discover a tenant living in their unit after the move in, remember that you can be helpful and kind without endangering you, your employees, your customers, or your storage facility.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, you may also like: Homelessness + self storage: How to be compassionate while preventing live-in renters, Should you challenge your rival storage facility to a charity competition?, and How to organize a toy drive at your self storage facility.