How Safe Are Self Storage Units?

If you have been looking into self storage units, you may be wondering how safe are self storage units. Your concerns likely stem from what is done to protect your belongings while they are in storage. Here's what you need to know

Approximately 40% of people in the United States are known to use self-storage facilities for both business and personal purposes. Whether you intend to put your things away for lack of extra space, or simply to get certain items out of the way for the season, you need to know before you commit to a rental just how safe it will be to keep your belongings there. 

Self-storage units are generally safe places to keep your belongings away from your home or business. However, these facilities often experience break-ins, so you’ll need to add your own security in the form of locks and insurance. It’s also wise to research the company and location before storing your items.

There’s a lot to consider when planning to put your things away in a self-storage unit. You’ll need to gather as much information about the facility as possible before moving your things in, and ensure you have everything you need to keep them safe for as long as you need. This guide will walk you through the major safety considerations regarding self-storage facilities and how to secure your unit.

Safety Factors to Consider About Self-Storage Units

Self-storage units are popular options for people looking to store personal items or business inventory for temporary or extended periods. They are a cost-effective alternative to securing a large number of possessions without the need to commit to a long-term agreement or rent an entirely new residential or commercial space. 

This option is so popular that the use of these storage units has increased by a whopping 65% in the past 1.5 decades alone. Yet, this (relatively) easy alternative may come at a price. Although self-storage units are generally safe, customers may not always be able to depend on the security of storing their valuables without added protection. 

To ensure that you are not exposing your things to unnecessary risk, you’ll need to know precisely what to look for to perform an accurate, in-depth risk assessment. The most important factors are discussed below.

What to Know About Zoning for Your Chosen Self-Storage Unit

Local ordinances may differ in terms of their requirements for warehouses, storage units, and similar structures. These legal standards apply to the storage unit aspects that you may not even think twice about, such as the layout of the driving paths, building materials, and the structure size. If the unit is not in compliance, it may not be the safest option.

Some of the most important features to note about the self-storage unit you intend to rent include:

  • Vehicle accessibility
  • Presence and type of fencing
  • Commercial uses (no portion of the storage facility should be used for retail or other forms of sales)
  • Preventative measures for environmental hazards (protection against fires, fumes, etc.)
A storage unit.
For a better experience, select a self-storage unit that is enclosed by fences and offers vehicle accessibility.

It can be helpful to check your city’s laws before you commit to renting a self-storage unit, as the average renter tends to sign agreements for up to 11 months. Commercial renters have a bit more to lose, as they normally agree to rental periods of up to 24 months. The last thing you want to do is bind yourself to a facility that has cut corners in their structural construction, putting your belongings at risk.

Risks of a Growing Population in Your Self-Storage Unit’s Locale

Many have reverted to storing their personal and business possessions in self-storage units this year, as housing and financial circumstances have become much more tumultuous than people initially expected. Yet, as the masses flock toward this seemingly cheap and easy alternative to maintaining a large rental home or shop, one of the most overlooked risks is a dense population in the unit’s city. 

A police officer standing.
Before renting a self-storage unit, consider the crime rate in the specific area to avoid burglary or identity theft.

Something you should always look into when you’re planning on renting a self-storage unit is not only the population in the area you’re looking to store your belongings in, but other related details such as the crime rate. According to Corodata, storage facilities are, unfortunately, some of the most popular targets for identity theft crimes. 

If you are a business owner who plans to store sensitive company data such as tax information, personal identification records, or highly valuable business material, it would be best to have several security measures in place before leaving your unit unattended. Otherwise, you run the risk of having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees to resolve the data breach.

Break-ins are an unfortunately common occurrence for self-storage facilities. For example, in the Memphis metropolitan alone, these businesses experience an average of 34 break-ins every month. Police officers say that only problems only tend to get worse around the holidays. To keep yourself from becoming a victim, research the area for crime rates and security before signing a rental agreement.

Maintenance and Operating Fees for Self-Storage Units

One of the characteristics of self-storage units that appeals to most people is the relative budget-friendliness of this option. You wouldn’t have to pay nearly the same amount of money to rent a temporary storage option as you would to expand your business’s inventory space or a home garage. Still, you should pay careful attention to your budget before getting into a rental. 

For instance, one of the primary things you should focus on when considering a self-storage rental is how the commitment will impact your cash flow. (This is more relevant to small business owners but is still crucial to budgeting for homeowners or those using the unit for personal applications.)

On average, you can expect these monthly rates when you choose to rent a storage unit (Source: Move.org):

  • Average self-storage unit with no climate control options: $60-180
  • Self-storage unit with amenities such as climate control: $75-225
A person paying through card.
Check specific details about maintenance and operating fees not to exceed your budget for renting a self-storage unit.

Of course, the size and location of the storage unit will influence the price as well. If you need a larger space, you can expect to pay more than you would for a smaller unit. Plus, renting a storage space in a large metropolitan such as Los Angeles, for example, will be far more expensive than it would be in a small town. This might be due to necessary precautions such as security cameras, considered up next.

Cost Considerations for Business Owners

You don’t want the cost of storing your inventory to be more expensive than the stock itself or the revenue your company earns from it. Although this may not be the first thing you think of when considering your chosen storage unit’s safety, it still directly impacts your business’s financial independence. 

Person discussing the plans.
Before renting a self-storage unit, assess the risks of theft or damage in the case of storing your valuables in a specific storage unit.

Primarily, you’ll need to consider the risks of paying for the rental and the potential of losing those items in the event of theft or damages. You may want to ask yourself the following questions when considering the economic aspect of renting a self-storage unit for your business:

  • Will the costs pose a significant loss to your regular income? 
  • Is the risk of theft or other such crimes too high for the rental unit to be advantageous?
  • Do the security measures required to secure the storage unit outweigh the savings of avoiding an expansion to your shop?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should realize that the potential safety risks of renting a self-storage unit aren’t restricted to the physical safety of the belongings inside, but the finances that keep the place in your name as well. 

Safety Features Included with Your Storage Facility

Even if you plan on incorporating your own security materials like locks and alarms, it’s best to research your potential storage facility and see what types of protections they have to offer. Along with learning the city’s crime rates and how they might affect your belongings, you’ll also need to consider the safety measures the facility takes to protect your stuff.

Security camera.
Selecting a storage unit with 24/7 video surveillance will offer better protection against theft or vandalism.

Ideally, your selected self-storage unit would include safety features such as sturdy locks, security cameras, and a gated campus. Still, whether the company offers these amenities or not, you would be responsible for ensuring that your things remain where they’re stored.

Some of the best methods you can use to keep your possessions safe while in storage include:

  • Be wary of people’s behavior while you’re loading your things into the storage unit. Colonel Marcus Worthy of Memphis Tennessee warned that when people “are paying more attention to you” than the things they’re storing in their rental unit, that’s a clear sign that they may have ulterior motives in visiting the facility. 
    • Note: If possible, park your vehicle close to the entrance of your storage unit. This way, you’re not forced to show your belongings to the world during the walk from the car to the unit. Parking right in front of the storage unit minimizes visibility of what you may be transporting from A to B. 
  • Buy the strongest possible lock you can find for your self-storage unit door. Some of the most widely acclaimed locks for this purpose include the following:
  • Get familiar with the neighborhood before storing your things. You can do all the web research you want regarding the area’s safety, crime rates, and related information. However, if you neglect to visit the place in person, this is all just hearsay. Col. Worthy suggests visiting the unit during all times of the day before moving your things in to get a clear idea of the environment.
    • Note: When you finally store all your things in the unit, make sure to visit it at least once per month. This way, you’ll stay up-to-date with everything going on (hopefully nothing) with your belongings. 

Insuring Your Items in Self-Storage

Storage facilities often require their renters to have some form of insurance protecting the items they intend to put away before offering a space or agreement. Before you start looking at an entirely new policy, take a closer look at your existing home or renter’s insurance. Many agreements include protections for possessions stored “off-site.”

If you learn that your existing insurance does not apply to your items in storage, then it’s time to take a step further and look into what the facility management has to offer.

You’re likely to find the following options when looking for more insurance information from the staff (Source: Insurance Information Institute):

  • They may offer insurance based on the unit’s square footage
  • There might be an option to add a supplemental policy to your existing insurance
  • You may have the opportunity to secure individual insurance per item, sensitive (meaning the item contains identifying information about you or others that should not be shared or publicized) and expensive belongings

No matter which route you end up taking, remember to take inventory of your things before you close and lock the storage unit door. When you have a clear picture of everything you’ve stored in the facility, you’ll be able to identify damaged or missing items as soon as possible. 

What Shouldn’t be Stored in a Storage Unit? 

Even when you work through the safety considerations above, there’s no guarantee that your self-storage unit will be 100% safe. This is not to say that you should be on-edge about every single item you stash in the facility. Instead, you should exercise reasonable vigilance and take it upon yourself to maintain security; otherwise, you might be left on your own if a crime occurs. 

A pile of sealed boxes in a room.
You should avoid storing high-value or flammable and hazardous items in a self-storage unit.

Another thing you can do to maintain the highest safety levels is to be mindful about the items you choose to put away in the storage facility. Whether you’re a business owner or need storage for personal items, it’s best to avoid storing high-value or sensitive possessions there. Doing so introduces far more risk than you would face otherwise and may entail more costs should something happen.  

Further, you should never store items that could potentially damage other things stored in the unit. This includes flammables or other such hazardous things, in addition to those listed in the “Do Not Store” category below. (Source: Move.org)

Do StoreDo Not Store
Unused furniture, whether for later personal use or as store inventoryFlammables (liquids or other substances that have a flash point – that is, when it begins to starts to emit vapor that will ignite – below 140֯F
Seasonal décor, furnishings, and equipment (many people use self-storage for holiday items, and even yard equipment like lawnmowers when they can’t be used)Combustibles (liquids or other substances with a flash point between 140-200֯F)
Belongings that you use infrequently but still wish to keep in your possession (e.g., trophies, family photo albums, book collections, extra home appliances, season-specific clothing, etc.)Things that could potentially attract pests (i.e., food)
Out-of-season vehiclesPerishable substances or items vulnerable to molding or mildew accumulation
Living organisms (i.e., pets and plants)*

Is It Safe to Sleep in a Storage Unit?

You may not be inquiring about self-storage units’ safety for the purpose of protecting your things, but yourself. Though people don’t talk about living in these facilities very often, this does not negate the reality that hundreds of thousands of people across the country take refuge in these makeshift “shelters” every year. 

A storage unit facility.
If you are in an emergency situation, be aware that sleeping in a self-storage unit is not among the safest solutions to the problem.

Although it can be considered an emergency solution to address homelessness, storage units are not built to meet housing codes, and are not suitable structures to serve as a living space. Still, according to a small 2014 survey, approximately 12% of storage facilities have had clients take shelter in their rented spaces. 

An additional 12% of the surveyed companies revealed that while they had heard of the practice of sleeping in storage units, they were not aware of their clients having done so on their property. One respondent estimated that as much as 7% of the U.S. homeless population is likely to reside in self-storage units.

Given the frequency of break-ins for units that are not housing people, but personal belongings and store inventory instead, self-storage units are not the safest options for sleeping. However, it may be a much better option for those struggling with accessibility to affordable housing than living outside. 

In Conclusion

Self-storage units are generally safe options for storing items that you do not immediately or frequently need, or that may not have space for in your home or business office. However, thieves tend to target these facilities quite often, so you will need to take measures into your own hands to ensure that your stuff stays secure. 

Before you begin transporting your things into the storage facility, do some research into the building and its management. For instance, you should request information on what types of insurance they offer for the items stored, and whether their policies are based on the unit’s size or apply only to individual items. You’ll also need to purchase locks and take careful inventory of your items before storing them. 

Lastly, some may wonder about self-storage units’ safety for the purposes of living in their rented space. This is not recommended, given the frequency of break-ins that these facilities experience. Still, if you are struggling to find affordable housing, it may be a better, temporary option than staying on the street (if shelters are unavailable).

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