Break-ins can’t always be prevented at self-storage facilities, but if managers handle them correctly, they can reassure current tenants and keep potential tenants from taking their business elsewhere.
You don’t need to announce when a unit break-in has happened at your facility, but you are ethically bound to be honest if someone asks, said Bill Alter, an Arizona real estate broker who specializes in self-storage facilities.
“The answer that you give has got to be truthful, but you need to be truthful in a way that won’t scare the prospective tenants away,” Alter said. “You can say, ‘Yes, we have an occasional break-in, but we have security that will protect your things.’”
Alter said you should resist the temptation to say that no break-ins have occurred if they have, because a tenant who’s been misled may seek financial compensation if his or her unit is broken into. Keep in mind that local newspapers and TV stations often cover break-ins at self-storage units.
Natolie Ochi, a partner at SKS Management, a California company that manages self-storage facilities, said she makes sure prospective tenants understand that break-ins are rare at her facilities, thanks to the many security measures that are in place.
Also, Ochi urges tenants to check that their stored belongings are adequately insured. If tenants don’t obtain insurance at self-storage facilities, they should be urged to contact their own insurers about what’s covered and what’s not. Some homeowner’s and renter’s policies include off-premises coverage that may apply to self-storage units, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Ochi said break-ins are most common at older facilities, where the walls between units sometimes are built of unreinforced drywall. “It’s easy to break a hole in the wall and go burrowing in,” she said.
Responding to break-ins
Diane Gibson, owner of Cox Armored Mini Storage Management, oversees self-storage facilities in the Phoenix area. She said she’s developed a procedure for handling break-ins.
“I have had very few problems like that,” she said. “We have addressed them immediately with the tenants who were affected. If we find that locks have been cut off of a unit, we call the tenant and say, ‘We believe something has happened. You need to come and open up the unit.’”
If a tenant does discover that property is missing, Gibson and her staff ask the tenant to file a police report.
“They make the police report, then we go on a counterattack,” Gibson said. “We start looking at gate locks and seeing if we can see any unusual patterns with new tenants.”
Most storage break-ins are committed by new tenants who’ve rented units for the sole purpose of stealing from their neighbors, according to Gibson. When break-ins occur, she makes sure her managers are patrolling a facility’s grounds at irregular hours. The goal is to make it difficult for thieves to predict when someone might be strolling past a targeted unit.
“We become very diligent,” Gibson said.
Another method Gibson uses to discourage break-ins is to monitor when tenants are entering a self-storage facility using their gate codes. If a tenant is visiting the facility at unusual times, Gibson may suspend his or her security access. When the tenant comes into the management office to report an access problem, Gibson or members of her staff discuss any recent break-ins and ask the tenant why he or she is visiting the facility at odd hours.
After being questioned, tenants who have committed break-ins usually will vacate the facility to avoid getting caught, she said.
No facility is thief-proof, but sometimes the location of a self-storage facility is enough to discourage crooks.
Julie Rossovich, assistant manager at Central Self Storage in Daly City, CA, said her business’ location provides a unique deterrent against crime. The facility, which has about 1,000 units on three floors, shares space at a strip mall with a police station. Because of the presence of police officers, crime hasn’t been a problem, she said.