What To Do If You Find A Tenant Living In Your Storage Unit
June 12, 2023
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How To Handle A Self-Storage Tenant Living In A Unit
Finding a tenant living in one of your storage units is a sad situation you never want to encounter.
For an individual in financial distress facing extreme housing unaffordability, a storage unit might seem like a safe, cheap place to live temporarily. You will most likely sympathize with this person and their story, but it will also put you in a difficult position as a business owner.
However unfortunate and uncomfortable it may be, it’s important that you address live-in tenants as quickly as possible. Allowing a tenant to live in one of your storage units, even if they are still making rental payments on time, could lead to unnecessary risks and liability, especially since storage units are not designed to be sustainable housing.
In this article, we discuss what to do should you find out that a tenant is living in their storage unit.
Legality of Living in a Storage Unit
Is it legal to live in a storage unit?
No, living in a storage unit is not legal. This is primarily because the property you own for your self-storage facility is zoned commercially, not for residential use, so isn’t regulated by federal and state laws the same way that residential units are.
As such, storage units are not required to meet the same health, building, and safety codes, and don’t need to have running water, climate control, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, proper ventilation, or electricity. Living in a storage unit without these utilities is more than a simple discomfort for potential live-in tenants, despite any articles you may see like this one about a “genius” renter attempting to, it can actually endanger tenants’ lives. In fact, a Houston family with six children was separated by Child Protective Services due to the lack of running water in the storage unit they had been living in.
It’s also possible that a tenant could get locked inside their unit (storage unit doors typically lock from the outside), suffer from extreme heat or below-freezing temperatures, lose access to proper hygiene, or even create a fire hazard and be injured in an accident as this man in Topeka was.
For these reasons and others, living in a storage unit is strictly illegal. If caught, a tenant will most likely face civil charges.
What Should You Do If You Suspect a Renter is Living in Their Storage Unit?
If you think a tenant might be living in a self storage unit, it’s important to act immediately. In most cases, you should initiate the eviction process. While this may seem like a harsh response for a struggling tenant, in reality, it could save their life. Here are the steps you should take to protect not only the tenant, but also other tenants’ belongings, your business, and yourself.
Step 1: Investigate the Unit
The first thing you should do if you suspect a tenant is living in their unit is to look around for unusual activity. “Unusual activity” could look like parked cars remaining in the lot overnight, people walking around after hours, storage unit doors left cracked open, or security camera footage if you have it. Collect evidence that could prove that the tenant is inhabiting their unit in case you need it for the eviction.
Step 2: Approach the Tenant Via Note or Email and Ask Them to Leave
If you have evidence to prove the tenant is residing in the unit, act quickly. Before involving any authorities, you should attempt to contact the tenant by slipping a note under their door or sending them a quick message. Explain that you’ve noticed some unusual activity and remind them that living in their unit is prohibited by the lease agreement and the law. If you’re uncertain about the situation you might want to give them the benefit of the doubt at first. However, if your evidence is strong, let the tenant know as firmly but kindly as possible that their lease will be terminated, and they need to move out of their unit and find alternate living arrangements. You can offer to connect the tenant with local housing or charity resources, but do not give out any personal information.
Step 3: Terminate the Lease and Follow Your State’s Eviction Procedures
If the tenant refuses to leave, terminate the lease immediately and send the tenant a notice that they will be forcibly removed by the sheriff if they do not move out. Be sure to consult your state’s specific laws for evicting a live-in tenant from their self-storage unit, including the proper notices to send, whether you need to file a lawsuit with which court, and when you can hire the sheriff to remove the tenant.
Step 4: Connect the Tenant with Resources and Local Shelters
As a considerate owner and person, you can demonstrate empathy for your tenant’s plight by taking the extra step to connect them with resources for homeless shelters, ministries, or food banks. Maybe you keep some fliers for local shelters or charities in your office so you can provide some kind of help for the tenant you had to evict. You can also reach out to these organizations yourself to learn about how to best offer support in the ways that you can.
Step 5: Don’t Get Personally Involved
Offer as much help as you reasonably can, but don’t overdo it by offering to let the tenant stay with you temporarily or trying to arrange housing for them. Providing your personal information like your address or phone number could compromise your safety and create more problems than it solves.
Taking Preventative Measures
Here are some ways to prevent evictions due to live-in tenants:
- Establish a firm “no loitering” policy in your lease agreements that specifically prohibits renters from sleeping in their storage units.
- Ask tenants to verify their home/mailing addresses so that you know your renters have accommodations.
- Increase security at your facility. This could mean installing security cameras, monitoring gate access, or hiring on-site staff to patrol the facility at night.
- Regularly inspect units to watch for unusual activity and describe your right to do so in the lease agreement.
- Discourage live-in tenants by purposely making your storage units uninhabitable. This could mean shutting off water and electrical access, locking gates and offices after hours, and installing motion-detection lights.
For more tips about preventing live-in tenants, see our blog article about the same.
Terminating a lease and evicting live-in tenant at your storage facility does not mean you are heartless or cruel. You’re simply following the law and looking out for the safety of everyone at your facility, including the tenant themselves. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, be as helpful and understanding as possible while still firmly enforcing the storage unit rules and regulations that prioritize safety for all.