Homelessness – Keep Your Self Storage Facility Safe for Your Tenants

Homelessness makes headlines regularly, and it’s not going away any time soon. It’s no longer the “invisible” problem that it once was. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report, “on any given night in 2018, more than half a million people were experiencing homelessness in the United States.” All of these people need a place to sleep. 

You’re probably wondering how a homeless person is able to sleep in a unit without the staff or manager being aware of the problem. Here are a couple of thought-provoking examples that will give you some insight has to how this happens.

Recently, I read a storage Q&A forum in which a manager was asking how to evict a homeless woman who had conned him into letting her and her “emotional support” dogs stay in a unit for a couple of nights. That couple of nights turned into a couple of months. I don’t know how the story ends, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty. What was this manager thinking – this never should have happened.

Another example shows how the storage managers overlooked what was an obvious violation of their rules. In a Reddit post, the perpetrator states:  “They knew I hung around there all day. I built up my car in their lot and I told them I was sleeping in my car. They said no sleeping in the unit as per policy, I said ok, and that was that. We were all friendly and saw each other daily. I had 24-hour access so me being there at any time was not a problem with them.”  Another situation that never should have occurred.

A self storage unit is meant to store possessions, not people or animals. As a storage manager, your primary obligation is to your paying tenants. Letting anyone live in a unit is dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal. Homelessness is sad on many levels; but, if people want help, they can usually find it. Their situation is not your problem or, more importantly, the problem of your paying tenants.

A man moving a stack of moving boxes.

Be on Guard Against People Living in Your Storage Units

Maintain No-Nonsense Security Standards

Keep a gate log and check video recordings against your log. Do regular walk-throughs of the property, and inspect storage units on a consistent schedule. Conceivably, people who are planning to live in a unit will be deterred by your watchfulness.

Managers Should be Suspicious of Unusual Activity 

Teach your managers to “trust their gut” by watching for unusual activity in the gate access log and on the video. Many of these people have been living on the street for a long time, and they know how to manipulate people. Train your managers to safely approach tenants (see below)  who they catch living in a unit. They 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. 

Train Managers to Keep Detailed Records and Approach with Caution

  • Never approach anyone alone. Always call the police. Because some of these people may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or mentally ill, they 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 takes legal action against the facility.
  • Protect your property by increasing security and fostering a good relationship with the police. 

Lease Agreements should be Unambiguous 

There is 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. When people are desperate they don’t always act in their own best interest, and they are too overwhelmed to consider anyone else.

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 really need help are overshadowed by the people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and 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 live 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.