What’s in That Storage Unit? Hazardous Materials Mean Increased Risk

What’s in That Unit?

Facility owners and managers lack control over the items being stored by tenants in their rented self-storage spaces. It’s one of the principles of the self-storage concept and poses one of the chief risk management issues for facilities. Customers who store hazardous materials in their units create a dangerously high risk of potential damage to your property, their property, and the property of other tenants.

The potential peril associated with the storage of hazardous materials is fire. Last year’s devastating Camp Fire in California and wildfires elsewhere are a terrible reminder of the risk that fire represents to businesses, homeowners, and public lands. Hazardous materials stored in a self-storage space have the potential to cause fires, and their presence may make a bad situation worse if the materials are consumed during the progress of a wildfire. A fire that affects a self-storage property can be costly and extremely disruptive to tenants and regular business operations.

Lease Agreement

The first line of defense against the storage of hazardous materials by tenants is the lease agreement. A well-written lease will include verbiage prohibiting the storage of hazardous, flammable, and toxic materials. It is equally important for managers to point out this verbiage to potential customers during the leasing process, particularly when renting to commercial tenants.

While any tenant may attempt to store hazardous materials in a rented unit, commercial customers such as construction companies, landscapers, roofers, painters, mechanics, and janitorial service providers may be more likely to use and store hazardous, flammable, or toxic materials at your facility. Managers should be trained to look for signage on containers and ask additional questions of tenants they believe may be renting space for commercial use. Facility owners may wish to add an educational training video to their website that details the types of items that may not be stored and provides information about the dangers of hazardous materials and open flames. Watching this video could be incorporated as a mandatory part of the leasing process or incentivized by offering a discount on the first month’s rent for tenants who participate.

Premise Inspections

The next line of defense is on-site managers – the “eyes and ears” of the operation – who have daily interaction with customers. Managers need to be thoroughly trained to discuss hazardous materials with tenants and to recognize and appropriately act on unacceptable tenant behaviors. A key preventive measure is completing daily premises inspections with a focus on new tenants who are moving in and tenants who frequently visit their units.

Tenant Communication

It is also important for facilities to stay in communication with tenants about facility policies including the prohibition against storing hazardous materials. Reminders may be inserted into mailed or electronic invoices, newsletters, and other communications. Another simple way to enhance awareness is to place signs around the property indicating that hazardous, flammable, and toxic materials are not permitted on the premises.

Attorneys and insurance agents are valuable resources for providing input and perspective on lease terminology, legal considerations, potential liability exposures, and the development of a training program for tenants and managers. In addition, MiniCo’s website offers safety and loss control resources such as the MiniCo Safety Shorts video series. The “Tenant Safety Checklist” video illustrates a number of tenant behaviors that may violate lease regulations. The MiniCo Safety Shorts video series is available at www.minico.com/safetyvideos.

Mike Schofield
President and CEO

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