5 Ways to Keep Your Stuff in Storage Safe
What to look for in a storage facility and how to make sure you are properly insured
Whether you need a short-term or long-term place to park things you don’t have room for at home (and can’t bear to throw out), you might consider renting a self-storage unit.
If you do, you and your stuff will have plenty of company: Nearly 11 million U.S. households currently rent storage space, according to the Self-Storage Association (SSA), a trade group.
While there are many facilities to choose from — more than 50,000 nationwide, according to the SSA — some are safer than others. Break-ins, fires and floods are just a few of the perils your possessions may face when you’re not there to look after them. Here are a few ways to help keep them safe.
1. Check the facility’s security. The Better Business Bureau suggests asking whether the building has surveillance cameras and if access by strangers is restricted. That might mean anything from fences and locked gates with coded security pads to a manager on the premises 24/7. The more levels of protection, the better.
If you need to supply a lock for your unit, don’t cheap out. Get a sturdy one. That might not stop a professional thief, but it could deter a casual one, or at least convince him to try another locker instead.
2. Consider flooding and other natural hazards. Even a secure facility can be at the mercy of the elements.
If the building has multiple stories, a higher floor should be safer from flooding than a lower one. You can also help protect your possessions by elevating them on wooden pallets and covering them with plastic sheeting.
Depending on where you live, a climate-controlled storage space could be worth the extra expense. It can protect your contents from temperature extremes and excess humidity, which can lead to mold and other damage.
Fire is another potential concern, whether caused by arson, the improper storage of flammable materials or a natural event like lightning. It may be impossible to prevent entirely, but a building made of fire-resistant materials is likely to burn less quickly, giving firefighters more time to contain the damage before it reaches your space. A sprinkler system can help, too, although malfunctioning sprinklers have been known to cause damage of their own.
As if all that isn’t enough to worry about, there are rodents and insects to consider. Look for clues that they’ve taken up residence and find out what the facility does to keep pests under control.
3. Know whether you’re insured. A homeowners or renters insurance policy, if you have one, provides some coverage for your possessions when they are in storage, but check with your agent to make sure it’s adequate. These policies may limit the amount of your coverage for certain types of items, such as jewelry, art and collectibles. So if you’re using your locker to store your collection of Impressionist paintings or priceless Pez dispensers, you will likely need additional coverage.
If you don’t have a homeowners or renters policy, look for a storage company that offers insurance with your space, suggests Loretta L. Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. “Keep in mind that any facility should also have their own insurance to cover damages or injuries that occur on their premises,” she adds.
4. Keep a list. Even though it may seem like an extra chore, it’s worth taking the time to make a list of everything in your unit and to update it as you move things in and out. Photos are a good idea, as well. Your list will not only be useful if you ever need to file an insurance claim, but it can also serve as a guide to what’s in your locker in case you ever lose track. You may want to indicate where in your locker each item is located — “Box 23, back wall, left side.”
5. Don’t be a stranger. Plan to visit your storage unit regularly, especially after major storms. Also be sure to pay your storage bills on time, so that you don’t return to an empty locker one day and discover that your possessions have been auctioned off. If you don’t want to worry about that, ask about arranging for automatic monthly payments from your credit card.