Considering the myriad socio-economic issues in North Las Vegas, I knew it couldn’t be easy to run a self-storage facility here. But when I talked to National Self Storage Operations Manager Heather Morrow, I could hardly believe what happened at her facility.
According to financial news site 247WallSt.com, North Las Vegas is one of the most poorly managed cities in America. Less than 77% of the adults have finished high school, the crime rate is atrocious, and one in every five homes was foreclosed upon in 2010. In debt and heavily reliant on government subsidies, the city of North Vegas has been unable to cope with a homeless epidemic that has spiraled out of control.
Managing fifteen different facilities across the country, Morrow makes sure she keeps in touch with all of her managers on a daily basis; so when her calls and texts to the two managers at the North Vegas facility went unanswered for three straight days, Morrow knew she had a problem on her hands. “[The North Vegas managers] just dropped off the face of this world. The guy had worked for us for years and years. It wasn’t like we hired someone we couldn’t trust.” Expecting the worst, she and her Sacramento facility manager-turned-bodyguard immediately got on flights to Vegas.
When they arrived at the two story facility in North Vegas, it looked like a scene from 28 Weeks Later. The place was swarming with transients, and the locks on all the first floor units had been removed. In the office, Morrow and her bodyguard were confronted by a homeless man who rather despondently said, “[the managers] told us you’d be coming.” After asking the man to leave the office, Morrow headed upstairs to the climate controlled units, and here’s where things really got interesting.
Walking down the hallway, Morrow followed a trail of extension cords, all of which lead to a single corner unit. Lifting the door to this locker, she found a middle aged woman sitting on a couch watching television. For storage unit living, this woman was in the lap of luxury – her unit was equipped with a bed, couch, microwave, hot plates, and even a portable toilet in the corner. As the extension cords in her unit ran down the hall and into neighboring storage lockers, this woman was in charge here, the proprietor of a makeshift homeless hotel. If her “tenants” did not pay rent, she’d pull the plug on them – literally. It was quite a system. As Morrow told me, “She was the Queen Bee of the operation. She must have been 25 or 30 units rented out.” Ultimately the police had to get involved, and it took a week to get everyone out of the facility.
Due to the intricacy of this woman’s arrangement, it was evident to Morrow and her colleague that this operation had been going on for a while. Bearing in mind that the onsite managers had only been gone for a couple days, it’s hard to believe that they weren’t in on this woman’s scheme – perhaps taking a cut of the profits. Morrow has no idea why her managers did what they did, but she acknowledges that due to the nature of North Vegas, “you really have to be picky with who you put in charge of that [storage facility].”
This incident aside, Morrow says that her homeless tenants are well paying and courteous. Nevada law states that homeless people can’t live in their units, but they certainly can spend a great deal of time in them, often “rearranging their units all day.” They can spend the bulk of their days at the storage facility, but they are forced to leave at night – unless of course you have a situation similar to the one Morrow had in Vegas. Dealing with homeless tenants can present challenges at times, but she says that most of the time they’re excellent tenants. She told me about a time when high winds knocked down an entire wall of her North Vegas facility (never a dull moment at this facility), and it was a homeless tenant who immediately called her to report the incident.
I would argue that the major take-away from Morrow’s ‘homeless hotel’ incident is that having trustworthy onsite management is absolutely vital, especially if you’re running a facility in an area like North Las Vegas.