If your house looks like an obstacle course and your closets overflow so much you use your backside to shut the door, you might want to rent a storage unit. Self-storage is a big business — the industry racked up more than $20 billion in annual revenue in 2010, according to the Self Storage Association. Storage companies can be found anywhere, so you don't have to look too hard to find one. While most facilities pride themselves on being a safe place to store goods, your items can still get ruined if you don't take precautions to safeguard them.
When you lifted the door on your new storage unit, it looked clean and safe with plenty of room to hold all your stuff. But a month later, you see vermin droppings on the ground. That's likely due to living matter, such as plants, perishables or even birdseed illegally stashed somewhere on the premises. Vermin or insects can eat through clothing, chew wires, urinate on mattresses and all sorts of disgusting stuff. And unless the storage facility guarantees a moisture-proof environment, humidity, leaks and mildew can wreak havoc on your belongings. If you don't pack your items correctly, you can expect breakage or spoilage to occur if shifting or settling occurs. Last but not least, vandals may attempt to break into your unit and clean out your possessions.
Anyone who rents a storage unit must sign a rental agreement, which is a binding contract. The contract spells out the monthly rate, the unit number and — most importantly — the disclaimer that what happens to your goods in storage is not the storage facility's responsibility. The contract generally contains "own risk" fine print with a checklist that covers possible issues you encounter when renting a storage unit. Your signature or initials on the agreement are to acknowledge that you understand the risks involved in storing your belongings.
Although many self-storage facilities offer access-controlled buildings, video cameras and fencing, your items may still fall prey to theft, arson and vandalism. Some storage building offers optional insurance, but may be more expensive than your own coverage. Check with your home or renter's insurance; many offer coverage for items damaged through storm-related incidences, building collapse, water damage and vandalism. Items such as firearms, rare coins, furs or jewelry, are generally not insurable.
There are many things you can do to protect your goods while in self-storage. Start with a heavy-duty lock — or two. Pack your items securely to prevent damage. Remove table legs and wrap with soft cushioning. Wrap mattresses in plastic lining to prevent dust, mold or mildew from forming on the surface. Store your items in boxes for stacking, with the heaviest items on the bottom. Pack loose items with pillow, sheets or fabric to prevent shifting or damage from surrounding items. Open appliance doors to prevent mildew. Do not store any living plants, food items or other perishables. Canned goods are okay.
Elle Smith has been an advertising professional for more than 25 years. Her work for ABC, CBS and Sony Pictures Television has appeared on radio, on air, in print and outdoors. In addition, Smith has more than 20 years experience in marketing, graphic arts, commercial photography and print production, and is a licensed real estate agent with property management certification in California.