A storage unit is meant to store the overflow from your home, your seasonal decorations, or that clutter that you’re not yet ready to discard. It’s not meant as a temporary home for the homeless or their animals. The primary obligation of a self storage facility is to its tenants. Letting people live in a unit is dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal. People have started fires, been injured, and destroyed the belongings of legitimate tenants. Homelessness is heartbreaking on many levels; but, if people want help, there is plenty available. Unfortunately, their situation is not your problem nor the problem of your paying tenants.
The issue of the homeless trying to find shelter in abandoned buildings as well as self storage units is especially prevalent during the winter months and has been magnified by Covid 19. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, “580,466 people experienced homelessness in the United States on a single night in 2020, an increase of 12,751 people, or 2.2 percent, from 2019.”
All of these people need a place to sleep, and, not all, but some of them can be menacing. As a self-storage operator, there may be a time that you have to deal with people illegally living in your units. Be proactive and take steps to make sure that only your tenants’ personal belongings are “living” in your self storage units.
Take Steps to Keep Your Self Storage Units From Becoming Homes
Consistently Maintain Security Standards
Keep an up-to-date gate log and check video recordings against your log. Do regular walk-throughs of the property, and inspect storage units on a consistent schedule. People who are planning to live in a unit will be deterred by your watchfulness.
Teach your managers to “trust their gut” by watching for unusual activity. People who have been living on the street for the long term can be manipulative. If a manager finds people living in a unit, they should immediately call the police (see below). People living in storage units need to be evicted immediately, or both the tenant and the owner could face criminal charges. If children are involved, the consequences will be even more serious. If one of your tenants reports suspicious activity, take it seriously.
Keep Detailed Records and Approach with Caution
- Never approach anyone alone. Always call the police. Sadly, many of these people may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or mentally ill and can become aggressive or violent.
- Keep consistently detailed records. The police will require security footage, gate log records, keypad activity, manager-on-duty records, payment history, and more. This material will be invaluable if the tenant who is renting the unit takes legal action against the facility.
- If you’re in an area where this occurs frequently, take extra precautions by increasing security and fostering a good relationship with the police.
Lease Agreements should be Unambiguous
There should be no room for misunderstanding. Your lease agreement should be unquestionably clear on your rules against living in a unit. If your property is in a city with a serious homelessness problem, you should review this information in detail with every new tenant. You can’t be sure of people’s intentions, and when people are desperate they don’t always act in their own best interest or anyone else’s.
Don’t Let Compassion Override Common Sense
We all feel compassion for people who are forced into a situation that leaves them without a place to live. It’s sad and frustrating because the people who truly need help are overshadowed by the people who have criminal intent. This problem has to be dealt with on a systemic basis. The homeless need the right people and resources to help them overcome these problems. Letting the homeless reside in your storage facility is not compassionate. It’s enabling behavior that pushes them a little further on their downhill spiral, and it’s unjust to your paying tenants.
If your facility is in an area with a critical homelessness problem and you want to help, there are countless non-profit organizations that would welcome your time and financial contributions. Here is a shortlist of other ways to help.
- Make cards with the contact information of nearby shelters and offer them to any homeless people that you may find in or around your facility.
- Collect hygiene supplies and clothing, especially socks, at your facility and donate to a local shelter.
- Volunteer to help at a local homeless shelter. You may have a skill that they need.
- Fundraise with social media and legitimate crowdfunding sites. Don’t underestimate the power of a community bake sale.
- Don’t forget youth homelessness. Unaccompanied youth experience homelessness on a different level than adults, and there are specific services available for their needs.