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non solum memento mori, memento vivere sed etiam
Public Service Announcement
I've been in the self-storage industry for nearly 20 years. As in, I remember helping my grandfather put on overlocks and sweep out vacant units when I was 5 years old. I've worked as a relief manager off and on since I was 14, and I've been a full-time (non-resident) manager for 2 years now.

That said, let me tell you some things about storage (all this applies to Texas, YMMV in other states):

You probably don't need it. Seriously. Don't get storage just to declutter your house. It won't actually help your clutter problem, plus you'll end up paying extra to keep all that old clutter. Storage facilities love people who just deposit some stuff and never set foot on the property again except to pay their bill (even better if they give us a credit card number and sign a direct-debit agreement), because these people never move out, and long-term tenants are the best source of revenue. But if you do need it...

Pay attention when they're explaining the lease to you. Block off at least 30 minutes of your time to devote to the paperwork. Storage is a heavily-regulated industry, believe it or not, and we need you to fill out several forms. If you plan on storing a motor vehicle, there are even more forms. Ideally we'd like you to read and understand what you're signing, but we'll settle for explaining it to you, since you get a copy to take home and read if you wish (we hope you do read it, because that saves everyone headache if something goes wrong). Don't rush the person doing your lease, because it's better for you if they have time to make sure it's done correctly.

Get the disc lock. Yes, you can get a cheaper lock at Wal-Mart. What I'm saying is that you shouldn't. This obviously doesn't apply to facilities that require barrel locks (the kind that fit inside the door frame), but if any old lock will fit, I'm telling you now that you should get a disc lock, whether you buy it from the storage facility or from Home Depot. The reason for this is that disc locks can't be removed with bolt-cutters.1 I hope you're smart enough to figure out the implications of that on your own.

Pay your rent on time. This may seem obvious, but you wouldn't believe how many people don't understand the concept of late fees. Our company's Coppell site has one guy who never pays on time, and then when he receives his late notice in the mail, he calls and bitches at whoever answers the phone as if it were their fault he didn't pay his bill on time. Lots of people assume that we will send them a bill, like the water company or the cable company. Sorry, if you want a monthly invoice it's $2 extra per month here, and there's nothing I can do about that. If you ask me, $2 extra per month is a lot better than $15 extra per month because you can't remember to pay it until we send you a late notice.

If you pay with cash, pay with correct change, or as close to it as you can manage. We are not a bank. There is less than $200 in my cash drawer. If you come in and pay your $35 rent with a $100 bill, odds are I don't have change unless you don't mind it all in 5's and 1's. Not to mention that I won't have change for the next person who comes in to pay their $35 rent with two 20's like you should have done.

Don't run the gate. I know it's a pain to have to get out that little card we gave you with your gatecode on it, and if someone else just went in I'm sure it's tempting to just barrel in after them without inputting your code. But this is stupid. At many facilities, this will leave you stuck inside, because the gate computer is set not to let anyone out if they didn't code in, even if the code is valid. Also, many facilities do not have a magnetic loop system to stop the gate from closing on your car.

Don't store anything stupid. I don't mean black velvet Elvises, I mean explosives, volatile or corrosive materials, ammunition, food, living or dead plants, living or dead animals, dead people, drugs, drug paraphernalia, and anything else that you wouldn't want kept in an attached garage. This includes paint, paint thinner, epoxy, gasoline, deer feed, houseplants, etc. Do not store your murder victims in your storage unit. Do not set up a meth lab in your storage unit. Do not try to live in your storage unit.2 You will get caught.

Keep your contact information up to date. If you don't pay us, we send you a late notice. If you don't respond to that, we send another one. If you don't respond to that, we send another notice and try to reach you by phone. And so on. Legally after 60 days of nonpayment we can cut your lock, seize your property, and sell it at public auction. We don't like to do this, because it's a huge pain. We especially don't want to do it only to receive a call from you a few months later saying you moved/were abroad/whatever and simply failed to either notify us or send us any payments. It is for this precise reason that we ask for you to provide us with an emergency contact who does not live with you. If you just put down your spouse (like most people do), and we are unable to reach you, what are the odds we'd be able to reach them? We don't care where that person is, we just want an address and phone number of someone who will know where you are in case you forget to tell us and forget to pay us. We won't harrass them, and we won't give them any information about your account with us; we'll just ask them to ask you to contact us, and we won't call again. Yes really.

Give notice before you move out. At most facilities, storage leases do not expire. They last until you tell the facility manager that you are finished, preferably at least 2 weeks in advance, in writing. Some facilities will prorate your last month's rent to your move-out date when you give notice, others will not. In general, if they prorated your rent when you moved in, they will probably prorate it when you move out (sometimes you have to ask). But I don't know of any facilities that will give refunds to prorate for people who didn't give notice.

1 Actually I can't honestly say that anymore. We charge $15 to cut off tenant locks, because we have to drag a generator out there (no electrical outlets on property per city code) and use a side-angle grinder to cut them off, and it takes at least 30 minutes if the lock is a good one. A couple months ago there was a guy at our Coppell facility who apparently didn't want to pay the $15, and he happened to have some bolt-cutters in his truck. (It was broad daylight, and when questioned he showed the manager his ID to verify that it was his unit.) Yes, it was a disc lock. He couldn't get the bolt-cutters around the exposed part of the hasp, so he had to nip at the lock's casing, and then cut through the hasp. It took nearly 2 hours. Once he was finished he came in and bought another one of those locks. ^_^

2 Yes, I have actually seen people try all of these things...
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valamelmeo From: valamelmeo Date: Tuesday 10th May 2005 14.47 (UTC) (Link)
Here, thankfully none. But I've heard of it. Usually they put the bodies in a trunk or an oil drum or something, but some places do have electrical outlets on the property, and i've heard of managers finding freezers with corpses in them, that they only found when they unplugged the extension cord the tenant had run to one of the outdoor outlets (which are intended for maintenance purposes, not for tenants to plug in a deep freeze) and it started to smell.

The meth labs and the people trying to live in there are considerably more common, but none of these is actually common at all. You hear about these sorts of things within your own company every couple of years, and it might happen to you once in about 10 years or so, depending on the neighborhood.