The discovery of five units occupied as makeshift homes in a single Salt Lake City facility last month has prompted a larger discussion about tenant residency among members of the self-storage industry.
The case was notable because it included a child, but this is not the first time a family has been found living in a storage unit. It is unclear how widespread the issue really is. The manager of A-1 Storage in Salt Lake said he turned away 10 to 15 people over a two-week period, which would indicate a widespread demand for this type of low-cost habitation for the homeless.
Kenny Pratt is a 10-year industry veteran and President of Crescendo Properties, which manages 15 storage facilities in Calif., Hawaii, Miss., Nev., Texas, Utah and Wis. He said his company is “not seeing any particular upswing in people trying to live in storage units. It happens from time to time, but doesn’t seem to be happening any more now than ever before.”
In regard to the problem in general, he related: “There are so many factors that come into play. The location of the facility – especially how urban it is – how much homelessness is in the area, and the facility’s policies. If there’s a lot of homelessness in that area already, then the facilities will have tenants trying to live there more frequently.”
Pratt surmises that above all, the problem involves “management practices” – managers may allow the rules to slip because they personally relate to the tenant, motivating a lenient attitude to avoid unpleasant confrontation. A poll of self-storage managers indicated the most common methods used to prevent the problem:
|Use security cameras||
|Require proof of physical address||
Other recommended solutions included door alarms, interior lights with motion detectors, cold-water-only in the bathroom, a rule that tenants keep unit doors up, visual inspections at random times of day (including by other tenants), and a final, detailed check of all units before closing for the night.
Over 75% of facilities listed on SpareFoot, the industry’s largest aggregator, use security cameras that would indicate whether or not storage tenant residency was a problem.
Cory Milligan, manager of 13th South Storage in Salt Lake City, said he appreciates his non-resident homeless tenants. These tenants maintain P.O. boxes and keep their belongings in storage. For some, it is a lifestyle choice. But they all pay on time, in cash.
His most effective solution against residency is a sign on the facility gate stating that it closes at 9:00 p.m., threatening a $50 fine or eviction for those who don’t follow the rule. He also resorts to fining if tenants consistently leave late. But Milligan has only had two incidences in his ten years of management with tenants who tried to actually live in the units.
“I let them know upfront that they cannot stay here after hours,” Milligan said. “Know your tenants. Know them well enough to get an idea of what’s going on.”