Self-Storage Subject to Price Gouging Laws Following Hurricane Ian

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian led governors in several Southeastern states to declare a state of emergency—a move that has a big impact on self-storage operators when it comes to setting prices.

The declarations triggered price-gouging laws that could put temporary limits on self-storage rental rates in some jurisdictions, according to a newsletter recently published by the national Self Storage Association. 

The recent declarations were made in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina,South Carolina and Virginia. All 50 states have price limiting measures that go into effect during a state of emergency, however not all are applicable to self-storage operations. For this reason, the SSA advises any operators affected by a state of emergency to consult with an attorney before making rate changes. 

For operators not currently impacted, now is a good time to review the law in your state so you are aware of your limitations the next time a disaster strikes. Conducting a review of the law now will help you mitigate your risk of running afoul of any anti-gouging laws unintentionally in the future.

Anti-Gouging Laws in Effect

According to Inside Self Storage, the anti-gouging laws currently in effect following Hurricane Ian are as follows:

  • Florida: The price-gouging statute is in effect statewide and prohibits charging an “unconscionable price” for self-storage units. Violators are subject to $1,000 per incident up to $25,000 for multiple violations. 
  • Georgia: Businesses are prohibited from selling at higher prices, unless the increase reflects an increase in costs incurred by the seller for providing specific goods or services.
  • North Carolina: Prices cannot exceed the average amount charged by the seller during the 60-day period preceding the emergency declaration.
  • South Carolina: Self-storage facilities may not charge an unconscionable price during the duration of the state of emergency. 
  • Virginia: Storage facilities may not charge an unconscionable price for 30 days following the declaration of a state of emergency. 

Avoiding Financial and Reputational Risk

Remember, customers can submit complaints to the state if they believe your business is violating the anti-gouging laws. The best way to avoid fines is to:

  • Avoid raising rental rates during a state of emergency until you consult with an attorney first.
  • Pause automatic rental increases on existing customers during the state of emergency.

Potentially worse than government fines is the reputational damage your company could face if caught breaking price-gouging laws. Such an event could be a PR nightmare for your company and erode the trust you’ve worked hard to build with your tenants.

Navigating Anti-Gouging Laws

If you want to avoid such a predicament, be very cautious about raising rates during a state of emergency. A slight miscalculation could end up being a costly mistake in terms of fines and lost business due to negative publicity. Avoid this major financial risk by consulting with your legal counsel before you raise storage rents.

4 Keys to Increasing Tenant Insurance Coverage

Boosting the number of tenants with insurance coverage is first and foremost about protecting the reputation of your self-storage facility. 

For example, If an unexpected event damages several of your units, tenants without insurance are left without compensation for their stored items. Even though the rental contract makes it clear that you are not responsible, customers will still often put the blame on the facility.

A risk management-based approach seeks to avoid such reputational harms by looking out for your customers’ best interest. By making sure every tenant has coverage, you can protect your business and your customers at the same time. 

But consumers these days are watching their budgets, and some might resist any fees that they see as unnecessary. So how can you overcome this predicament and get more of your tenants enrolled in an insurance plan?

Here’re are four practices to help you close the coverage gap:

1. Require proof of insurance

It may seem like a hassle, but requiring proof of insurance could potentially save you from dealing with bigger problems down the road. If a customer doesn’t want to enroll in the plan you offer, they can provide proof of coverage from their homeowner’s or renter’s policy. 

2. Train your staff

Training your staff to properly explain the benefits of tenant insurance is essential to success. An overly strong sales pitch will likely cause customers to retreat. Instead, make it clear that tenant insurance is required for the rental and everyone gets it. 

Furthermore, tenant insurance often provides better coverage and a lower deductible than some homeowners policies. In some cases a tenant’s deductible may be more than the value of their damaged items when using their own insurance. Being able to explain this value to the customer at the point of sale is something that you must train your staff to do well.

3. Upgrade your website

If you are offering online move-ins on your self-storage website, make sure you can enroll tenants into tenant insurance as part of that process. Getting them to sign up or provide proof at a later time can be a pain in the neck, and will have your employees spending too much of their time trying to chase down tenants for paperwork.

4. Use technology to your advantage

If tenants slip by without providing proof of coverage, this can create a risky situation for you. Using a tenant insurance platform that integrates with your facility management software makes it easier to keep track of each tenant’s coverage status and find those that aren’t complying with your policy.

Take steps to boost enrollment now

The bottom line is, the more renters you can enroll into a tenant insurance or protection plan, the better insulated you’ll be from any blowback that might occur in the event of a cataclysmic event. Use the tips above to help you close the tenant coverage gap.

The Importance of Cybersecurity Training for Self-Storage Teams

An estimated 30,000 websites are hacked each day. Don’t let your facility website be one of them.

In 2021, businesses experienced a 50 percent increase in the number of cyberattacks each week compared to 2020. Security experts warn that the rate and sophistication of such attacks are expected to rise.

As self-storage operators increasingly move towards online rentals, they are becoming more and more of a target for cyber attacks. Such attacks can compromise customer data and the damage can cost operators thousands of dollars to repair. Some attacks use a type of computer virus called ransomware to take control of your machine and hold it for ransom. Needless to say, any kind of cyberattack is bad for your business.

Identifying Cyberattacks

Most cyberattacks succeed due to a lapse in human judgment. For example, “spearphishing” attacks involve sending a personalized message to a target that imitates a genuine communication from a trusted source. Such messages commonly encourage the victim to click on a link. This often leads to the log-in screen of a spoofed website (of a bank or software service for example), where the victim types in their username and password.

Falling victim to an attack like the one described above can be detrimental to your business. Once a hacker gains credentials to one of your accounts, it is very often a matter of time before they can infiltrate others. This is the primary reason why it is never a good idea to use the same password for multiple accounts.

Aside from adhering to secure password protocols, the best way to prevent attacks is by training your self-storage staff to identify them.

Why Your Storage Facility Needs Cybersecurity Training

Your front office staff is often the first, and last, line of defense against cyberattacks. Without proper training, it is easy to be duped by spearphishing and other types of attacks that use social engineering

In the example provided in the previous section, a trained employee would hover over the link before clicking it to read the URL. They would then immediately notice that the web address is suspicious and not click through. The employee would flag the message as suspicious and report it, and potentially save you thousands of dollars and days of stress as a result

Spoofed websites are made to look real, but the URL will not be the same as the legitimate site. For example you might get a message claiming to be from LinkedIn that your password needs to be reset. You click on the URL and see that it starts with “linked-in.com” instead of the correct spelling. That is a sure sign you just landed on a suspicious website that is trying to steal your information.

Spotting phishing attempts isn’t so hard, once you learn what to look for. This is why requiring all employees to complete at least one cybersecurity training session each year is strongly recommended. 

Putting Cybersecurity Training into Practice

The more cybersecurity training you can give to your employees the better protected your operation will be. Training can be conducted online, with different companies providing educational platforms to businesses. Training consists of different modules, or lessons, that take place through a series of slides, vidoes, quizzes and interactive scenarios.

You can also set up occasional phishing tests to see how your employees respond to a simulated attack. If they fall for such tests, it is a sign you need to step up their training.

A good place to start is Google’s free phishing simulator. Here you can test your skills separating malicious email messages from safe ones.

Below are some more resources for cybersecurity training worth considering:

10 Ways to Create a Safer Environment for Your Tenants

When people rent a storage unit, they want a safe and streamlined service to meet their needs. With some preparation, consistent maintenance, and mindfulness, self-storage operators can provide a safe environment for tenants. This reduces the liabilities from lawsuits that are related to personal injury and negligent property. In turn, storage units can see crime reduction, enjoy better reviews, and maintain a good reputation for long-lasting success. 

So what are some ways to create a safe environment for your storage unit tenants? Here are some of top methods a storage facility can use to create the best environment for everyone:

  1. Routinely inspect railings and ramps — Infrastructure failure is a surprisingly common cause of on-site injuries. Thankfully, by doing preventative maintenance on essential structural components like railings and ramps, you can make sure they don’t break and injure your customers. 
  2. De-ice and treat your pavement in winter weather — Slipping on icy ramps, roads, and walkways are another common cause of injury. Make sure you stay on top of this potential problem by pre-treating these areas before a major winter storm or an overnight freeze. 
  3. Maintain all storage units properly— Proper maintenance, such as rolling up doors, servicing the HVAC regularly (for air-conditioned units), and lubricating door hinges can prevent premature wear and tear from rust and other weather-related hazards. 
  4. Install video surveillance — A top-quality security system will not only deter thieves and trespassers but will also give your customers greater confidence in renting from your unit. Make sure to install motion sensors for sensitive areas and keep these areas visible for surveillance cameras to catch footage.
  5. Upgrade lighting— For your security system to work, proper outdoor lighting is necessary. If customers can access their belongings 24/7, it’s your responsibility to keep these areas highly visible around the clock. 
  6. Keep floors clean — Slick floors can lead to slips and injuries, so make sure that your facility has clean floors that provide excellent traction at all times. 
  7. Clear corridors — Injuries can also come from accidents related to clutter and blockages in corridors. Take away any chance of this happening by keeping all pathways clear. 
  8. Hire security — The presence of security guards can provide a great sense of relief for customers and discourage thieves from entering your storage unit business. This is an excellent investment for your business.
  9. Offer free Wi-Fi — Complimentary Wi-Fi isn’t just a convenience for tenants, but it also makes it possible to confidently make phone calls or share their location even when cell phone data runs low. 
  10. Ban firearms on premises — Tenants will feel more secure when they know that firearms are not allowed at the storage unit. This extra peace of mind can give them the confidence to choose your business and get a longer lease too.

Create a Safe Environment for Your Tenants

These 10 quick tips will help you create a consistently safe and enjoyable place to store belongings. If you have any more ideas about making your storage unit business safer, share them with us today.

What Self-Storage Operators Need to Know About Stopping Workplace Harassment

Letting harassment run wild at your self-storage facility isn’t only shameful, but it could be a costly mistake. 

Case in point, employers paid more than $68 million in 2019 to settle harassment claims made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity commission.

Monetary disincentives aside, self-storage businesses big and small have role to play in standing against all forms of harassment in the workplace. Creating a work environment that is safe and free of unwanted harassment is an important responsibility that every employer must provide—not only because it is the right thing to do, but it’s also the law. 

Your storage business could be sued for creating a hostile work environment if you do not do enough to address all forms of workplace harassment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct based on one’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, or pregnancy)
  • National origin
  • Age (40 and up)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Of course, you don’t want any type of harrassment going on at your workplace. But where should you begin when it comes to taking a proactive approach to preventing it occuring in the first place?

It is not enough to respond to and stop harassment in the workplace when it occurs. Self-storage operators should implement policies and create a culture where it is well known that all forms of harrassment are taken seriously and not tolerated.

Here’s three key actions to take to reduce incidents of harrassment from occuring at your self-storage facility:

1. Establish an anti-harassment policy

Having an anti-harassment policy should be your number one priority. Without rules in place, how can you expect to enforce them?

Your policy should be as specific as possible in outlining what constitutes harassment, what the consequences are for violating the policy, and how incidents should be reported. Visit the EEOC for additional guidelines on developing a policy.  

Also keep in mind how your policy handles harassment that takes place off-premises in a remote work environment. The rise in telecommuting during the pandemic has given rise to increased harassment over email, video and chat platforms. You’d be wise to cover such situations when developing a new anti-harassment policy or update your existing procedures if needed.

2. Make prevention training mandatory for all employees

Everyone at your self-storage business, whether you have four employees or 400, plays a role in the prevention of workplace harassment. To play this role effectively, employees need to be trained how to recognize harassment taking place and what to do in such situations. People often don’t know how to react in the moment when they witness harassment, but with the right training they will be able to respond better in the future.

You can either hire an instructor to visit your business, or organize training via an online provider such as HRDirect, Everfi or Easy Llama. Behave At Work provides a handful of free training videos in addition to paid training.

3. Lead by example

Self-storage business are often very tight knit, so it is important that the owners and management lead by example.

Company leadership should announce new anti-harrassment policies and trainings, and attend in-person trainings. This shows that the initiative comes from the top and is taken extremely seriously. In addition, leadership should pay close attention to employee interactions and stay vigilant for signs of any harassment taking place and step in if needed.  On the other end of the spectrum, leadership must also not undermine their own efforts by engaging in problematic behavior such as telling inappropriate jokes or dating subordinates.

Create a safe work environment

It is the job of every storage operator to make sure they offer employees a safe and secure environment to work. Hold the anti-harassment training now, before an incident takes place that requires you to hold a training session. By taking such steps you not only reduce your company’s liability, but also minimize the potential harms faced by your hard working staff.