A Guide to Self-Storage: What to Ask Before You Rent
February 10th, 2018
[ https://www.houzz.com/magazine/a-guide-to-self-storage-what-to-ask-before-you-rent-stsetivw-vs~103277150 ]
About 1 in 10 U.S. households put their excess stuff in a mini storage unit. Some of them will lose part or all of it because of theft, default, negligence or a catastrophic event. To lower the chances of this happening to you, know what to ask before you rent and whether you’re covered by insurance. If possible, visit the prospective facility, including at night. If that’s impractical, try to get as much information as you can about the following topics.
Building and location
How is the building constructed? Is it in good condition? Is it in a safe, well-lit area or one that’s high in crime? What about its potential for flooding? Is it near any businesses that could attract vermin? Does it offer exterior and interior units? Is it single- or multistory?
Is the place tidy? How often does it get cleaned? Does it have a pest-extermination contract in place? What are you required to do to keep your unit clean? If a facility isn’t regularly and thoroughly cleaned, there’s a chance that bug and rodent infestations won’t be discovered.
Are you the only one who can enter your unit, or can the landlord get in to, say, make a repair? Is your access restricted or 24/7? If it’s by appointment, how much notice is required? Under what circumstances could the landlord lock you out, and how do you regain access? How do you reach your unit? Do you need drive-up access, or can you get by with a trolley and an elevator? How wide are the driveways? Do you need a wheelchair-accessible unit?
Is there a value limit on what you can store in the unit? What can’t you store in it? Typically, restrictions prohibit anything perishable, hazardous, noxious, flammable, explosive or illegal, along with plants, animals and people. “Some allow band practice,” says Alexander Harris, web editor for SpareFoot.com, a marketplace for finding and reserving storage. “But generally the facilities aren’t zoned for habitation.”
Payment and delinquency or default
What is the amount of your rent and security deposit? Are there administrative or other fees (for example, if you lose your key or the manager has to seize your belongings because of default)? When is the payment due each month? Can you make online payments? How much notice do you have to give before vacating?
What happens if you pay late or don’t pay? Since nonpayment can result in an auction of your unit’s contents, as dramatized on A&E’s reality TV show Storage Wars, ask how many days of delinquency are allowed before the auctioning process begins.
Although auctions happen regularly, they’re really a last resort, Harris says. Storage operators can recoup only the overdue rent and auction-related costs (to cut a lock, for example) and must return the rest of the proceeds to the tenant. “They don’t want to have auctions,” he says.
Does the facility have perimeter fencing that’s at least 6 feet high and away from buildings and trees that could provide access? What about automatic gates and video surveillance? Are there lights, motion detectors and individual unit alarms? Are there smoke alarms and sprinklers? Do you access your unit with your own lock, key code or even biometric scanner? Is there an on-site manager, a security guard or both? Are the security features in working order? How often are the grounds patrolled? How are prospective tenants screened?
Even with state-of-the-art security, no facility can guarantee that your things will be safe. And since contracts often prohibit facility owners from opening your unit, you may be on the hook for keeping it free of pests, mold, flammable materials and more. In fact, many owners require that you maintain insurance covering the full replacement cost of your unit’s contents. Be sure to read your lease and ask questions about anything you don’t understand.
Are you interested in insuring your belongings or required by the facility to insure them? If so, find out whether your current renters or homeowners insurance already covers off-premises belongings or offers an add-on package, then ask what the limits are. If you are insured, bring proof of coverage to the facility.
Does the facility require that you buy its own insurance policy? If so, does it have a license to sell insurance? Expect to pay about 15 percent above your monthly rental rate as a monthly insurance fee, Harris says.
What perils are and aren’t covered by your insurance, and what are the coverage amounts? Although insurance providers vary on how much they reimburse, they’re fairly consistent about what they won’t cover, says Loretta Worters, vice president at the Insurance Information Institute. Common exclusions include damage from insects, rodents, mold and flooding; missing items when there’s no evidence of a break-in; and expensive items like art, antiques, jewelry, watches, furs, cash, deeds and securities.
Most facilities provide reimbursement based on the square footage of the unit, so if you cram a small unit with valuables, you may not be reimbursed for their full worth.
“Check both the coverage limits and whether it is provided on an actual cash value or replacement cost basis,” Worters says. “Most storage facilities will also offer a variety of supplemental insurance packages. Ask your insurance professional if it makes sense to buy this additional coverage. If it is being insured by your homeowners policy, it would depend on the limits set forth by your insurer, not the facility owner. If your off-premises coverage is a fraction of your personal property coverage, you may wish to increase your personal property coverage limit in your homeowners insurance policy. That may result in an increased limit for belongings while those items are away from your home.”
Worters says if you intend to place highly valuable items, such as art or jewelry, in a storage unit, you may want to buy increased coverage (known as scheduled personal property coverage) to specifically protect those items. It’s also a good idea to have flood insurance.
And before locking up your unit and leaving, make sure you’ve thoroughly documented what you’re storing with an inventory and that the facility has your most up-to-date contact information in the event of an emergency.
Are you storing items sensitive to heat, cold and moisture, such as leather or wood furniture, appliances, electronics, instruments, artwork and important documents or photos? Will they be in storage for an extended period? Do you live in an area where extreme temperatures are likely? Is dampness an issue? If so, then climate control (cooling, heating, dehumidifying) may be worth the additional cost since it can protect against cracking, splitting, warping, yellowing, corrosion, rust, mold, mildew and bacteria. A climate-controlled unit generally rents for 30 to 50 percent more than a standard unit, Harris says. Clarify the specifics of climate control with the facility. Some may cool the air without actively bringing the relative humidity level to the generally optimal 55 percent.
Other extras and amenities
Do the units have lights and power outlets? Does the facility offer packing supplies, handcarts, dollies and dumpsters or even courtesy truck rental? If it’s important to you, does it provide a business center with free Wi-Fi and package acceptance?
Does the company have solar panels, recycling bins, motion-sensitive lights and energy-efficient light bulbs? Does it support environment-friendly causes?