You’d think that renting a self storage unit would be easy. Someone comes in and needs a unit. They pick the size they need, you go over the contract with them, they buy their lock, sign, pay, and start moving their belongings in.
You already know it’s more complicated than that. For this article, let’s go over what can happen when more than one person gets access to a unit.
One Name Per Agreement, or Two
It’s important to state from the beginning that most self storage contracts allow only one name on the rental agreement. However, there is an exception. Two people can put their names on the renter line, as in, “John Doe and/or Jane Doe.” They can then both sign on the same signature line. Though you may want to check what that means in your state, in most places it means that both are legally the renters of the unit, and both are liable for rent.
You might also want to instruct them on the difference between using “and” or “or” when turning the contract into a two, rather than one, person agreement. “John Doe and Jane Doe” means that the renters are both liable for the rent, and that they need to agree on any changes, such as changing the gate code or closing out the unit. “John Doe or Jane Doe” means you can go after one of them or the other one for payment. It also means that either of them can make changes without the other’s permission.
Technically, more than two people could sign the contract, if they can fit their names on the lines! You may want to add something to the contract that says, “No more than two tenants may sign this contract,” and explain that the more people on the agreement, the higher the potential for conflict. We’ll cover potential pitfalls further down in this article.
Who Storage Units Are Made For
No matter the size—from a 5x5 to a 20x30 or even larger—self storage units are, in general, intended for individuals, single households, or single businesses.
However, depending on your target renters, you may want to do things differently.
In a university town, you might want to allow college roommates, or even simply two or three college students, to rent together. This can keep you competitive and attract more customers, especially if other facilities require students to rent alone.
It’s a good idea to have on your contract a section for an alternate contact. This would be a person who would have access to the unit and could make changes to the contract, such as closing it out, under certain circumstances. For example, if the tenant passed away, you would call the alternate contact and let them know that they now have access to the unit and need to either decide to keep it, or to close out the rental agreement and clear it out.
Don’t Sweat It
You can’t keep track of everyone who accesses every unit, and a tenant may give a friend, coworker, or partner their key on a one-time basis so that person can put something in the unit, or retrieve something.
Here’s a portion of an actual self storage contract that will protect your facility should someone access a unit with a gate code and key, and do something the tenant did not want:
Authorization of Access to a third party is entirely at your discretion. ONLY YOU can provide the key and the code to your authorized individuals. WITH THIS IN MIND, we ask that you exercise caution in sharing your access. We reserve the right to deny access or remove trespassers or ill-behaved individuals from the property. If you’ve experienced a code breach, please contact us in person to change your gate code.
You may want to incorporate this into your contract. Feel free to change the wording to suit your needs.
Even in the cases of households or businesses renting a unit, when multiple people have access and store their belongings in the unit, problems can arise.
Suppose an unmarried couple rents a unit under one of their names. If they have a bad breakup, the person on the agreement may deny the other access. As a facility, you won’t be able to let the non-renting party enter and get their things. It will be up to them to work that out with their ex, or through the legal system.
In some states, if this happens with a married couple, you can allow the spouse access. In others, you can’t, so check your state’s laws regarding marriage and shared property.
As another example, suppose an employee gets fired, neglects to return their key to the company storage unit, and steals stock from it. While the responsibility for that theft does not fall on your facility, it could lead to the business owner having misplaced anger toward you.
Going to Auction
If a tenant abandons their unit, and someone else claims to have belongings in that unit, what can you do? In that case, you may want to get legal advice, since property laws can vary greatly from state to state.
One universal, though, is that deployed military members have special protection when it comes to their belongings in storage going to auction. If someone has abandoned a unit and things belonging to a member of the military are in it, you’ll want to find that out. If a military member comes to you claiming they have belongings in that unit, and it goes to auction, you can find yourself in legal hot water. Do your best to get in touch with the contact who abandoned the unit. If you can’t, call the alternate contact. A property lawyer can help you if those solutions don’t work.
Once you have confirmed what the military member owns in the unit, return it to them if legally possible. Again, this may vary depending on your location.
Adjusting to a Changing World in 2021
The past year has been a wild one, to say the least. The storage industry is no exception and flexibility and the ability to adapt to change are key to the success of any business today. It's important that you're able to work with your customers while also remaining legally covered in the event of any negative situation that might arise out of a shared storage unit.
As you can see, a variety of problems can arise when people share a unit. It’s important to accept this, but to do what you must to cover yourself legally. Certain stipulations in the contract, as well as doing your due diligence in some situations, should be enough. Rest assured that most of the pitfalls mentioned happen rarely.