Thieves and Bad Tenants – How to Deal with It and Protect Other Customers’ Goods
By Carol Mixon
President , SkilCheck and AZSA's Education Chair
We are aware that there has been an increase in break-ins at self-storage properties throughout the country. There are several reasons this may be occurring. Because more people are at home, there has been a considerable drop in urban crime. When authorities wanted to limit the mobility of people, they requested/required citizens to not leave the house except for ‘essential’ activities; arguably among the most intrusive policies, with wide-ranging collateral effects on society, the economy and human rights, but that is another subject.
While some early studies suggested that violent and non-violent crime dropped as regulations were imposed, there is also evidence that the effects of COVID-19 on crime are not universal across countries nor across different categories of crime. Rather, opportunity structures are specific to different types of crimes, and a change in opportunities for theft may not correlate with a change in opportunities for assault. For example, opportunities for certain property crimes, such as theft and robbery, depend on the daily flow of people into commercial areas and nearby transportation modes that offered a high volume of suitable targets and access/exit paths for motivated offenders. Since most people stayed at home throughout the day, fewer houses were left unsupervised and residential burglary may have become much more difficult, while commercial buildings like self-storage are victims because they are less supervised and hence an easier target for thieves.
Thieves As Tenants
Unfortunately, we rent to people who are thieves and a bunch of other weirdos, too. A poorly manned self-storage property, with little to no security measures, are prime targets and easy pickings for these bad people. They may not simply jump your fence; they may rent your cheapest storage space. This gives thieves time to surveil the property, look in open customer spaces for items they can sell, and to see how often the storage staff are on the property doing security rounds.
Security – Don’t Worry About Being Snoopy!
Great storage managers are always watching for suspicious customer behavior. At some storage properties, it is a lot of their customers. Keep in mind that you will still need good quality security cameras and digital video recorders which are essential in watching and recording what your tenants, guests and trespassers are doing when on site. It is also a good practice to make security rounds are part of your daily routine. This is especially true if the bad actors are on the property. If you are not busy, take a walk and say “hello” to your customers onsite. Watch for weird behavior. While doing an audit of a storage property, I saw a guy sitting in his truck for over an hour. The manager said that same truck tailgated another car in earlier that morning. The manager said that he was with the other car in front of him. She knew the customer in the first car but did not know who the customer in the truck was, but assumed they were together. So, I suggested we check him out. The guy claimed that he was waiting for his boss who had a space at the property. The manager said, “Thanks, we just needed to know why you were here.” Being the storage sleuth that I am, that answer didn’t satisfy me, so I asked, “Hey, what is your boss’s name and unit number?” He looked surprised and nervous and said, “Ahhhh, Bob Smith in, I am not sure which space.” My response was, “Unfortunately, we will need you to wait outside the gate for your boss.” The manager said that she didn’t know all the customer names, but she didn’t remember a Bob Smith. As he left, I got his license number and called the local police department and gave an officer his information. The officer informed us that the car was registered to a person they had a warrant for for theft and bodily assault. The moral of this story is to be aware, don’t assume you live in Whoville. It never hurts to be on the side of caution when it comes to observing and contacting the police.
Have A Comprehensive Rental Agreement
A well drafted self-storage rental agreement should include the following provisions:
- OWNER’S RIGHT TO ENTER AND INSPECT – This provision would allow the storage operator to go into a customer’s space. This inspection should come with a letter, email and call to the customer of the date and time you will be inspecting the space. Personally, I have done this on several different types of problematic issues in storage such as:
- Water leaking from a space
- Odd/Chemical odor coming from the space. My Stockton, California storage property had a very strong odor of chemicals in a hallway and we cut the locks of three units and found only household goods. There was a 10 x 10 space next to the hallway and when we cut the lock on that space there were several 55-gallon drums of chemicals to make meth. The manager admitted that the guys that rented the unit were rough looking and paid in cash. After calling the Police, our storage property and the apartment next door where evacuated and it took hours to get HAZMAT to the site and remove the highly explosive chemical and the sticks of dynamite (that were sweating).
- STORAGE PROPERTY RULES – You should give the customer a list of rules for the property. I call the form, ‘Be A Good Neighbor’. This form reminds the customer what is allowed on the property, the access and office hours, establishes your hours of operation or tenant access, and safety rules around the property.
- PERMITTED AND PROHIBITED USE OF SPACE – Customers should not be allowed to loiter inside the space, use it as a living space, store animals, food, explosives, etc.
How To Get Rid Of Thieves and Problem Tenants
Instead of trying to evict a customer in an unlawful detainer court case or even trying to get the customer out in a Small Claims court action, there is a quicker and less expensive way to get rid of the bad actors at your property. A well written Rental Agreement should have language in it which will allow you to get the problematic customer out of the space. A quicker and easier way is to increase the rent and limit their access to their space, overlocking this space until they check in with the office first. When interacting with the bad tenants, make sure you put notes in the software each time you have any problem/issue with the customer. And inform your supervisor!
At my storage property in Hawaii, I increased a problematic customer in a small locker by $300 because the tenant was changing her clothes in the aisleway, and it was bothering several of my pharmaceutical customers. When I asked the half-dressed woman to use our restroom to change her clothes and not to change in the hallway, she said she knew her right and the Police wouldn’t do anything to her since the storage property was private property. My assumption was that she had dealt with the Honolulu Police before. I politely told her to hold on a minute or two and I would be right back. Quickly printing a rent increase on her space for an additional $300 per month, I hustled back to her space. When I handed her the Rent Increase letter, she said, “You can’t do this!” I replied, “Yes, this is my private property and I have the right to increase your rent with notice and when you are not following the facility rules.” Much to my surprise she quickly packed all her stuff out of her locker and let me know that she would tell all her friends what a bad place this was to store…. LOL! I wished Lady Godiva the best of luck.
For more information from Carol Mixon on Theft, please press the link below to the AZSA webinar, Handling Theft and the Media Aftermath presented by Carol and AZSA's Legal and Legislative Chair, Richard Marmor.