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Tips on picking a safe temporary storage facility

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to use a temporary storage facility when relocating. But they're not all created equal -- and even a national or regional chain can have major differences from one location to the next.

Consider the case of Barbara Anderson of Sun City West, Ariz.. Anderson was moving from Des Moines, Iowa, to Phoenix in September 1998. She rented a 10-foot by 30-foot storage unit in Mesa, Ariz. Anderson says she chose this particular facility because of its assurances that it was secure.

"I was told they videotape each alley to the storage units 24 hours a day," Anderson wrote in a complaint to the Rip-off Report. "As my unit had a front and back door, my unit would be covered on both sides. Also the entire area was gated ... you needed an access code to drive in."

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Anderson says she checked the unit in December and everything was fine. But when she returned in April 1999, the unit had been ransacked. Anderson claims the lock she had put on the front door was gone and replaced with another lock. She got in through the back door that still had one of her locks.

Tapes had been erased
Anderson says she was shocked when she asked the storage facility to look at their videotapes to try to identify the burglar and was told they erase the tapes every month or so. This was no help to someone such as herself who was renting the space for a fairly long period.

When Anderson called the Mesa police, she says she was told break-ins at storage facilities happen "all the time."

Anderson says the break-in resulted in a $40,000 loss that she still is negotiating with her insurance company.

"It's been a nightmare," Anderson told me in a recent phone conversation. "Where did you buy it, when did you buy it, how much did it cost? I have a lot of pictures and I think they're trusting me on other things but I have to list everything from a stinking tablespoon on up."

There are some lessons to be learned from this incident.

Make sure insurance covers it
One of the more obvious ones is to make sure you have an insurance policy that covers items you put in storage. Some facilities will insure contents, but most don't. You could get a short-term separate policy from an insurance company or some storage facilities will help you arrange for insurance. Even though they don't provide the coverage usually, they know how you can get it. The Council of Better Business Bureaus recommends you get the rental agreement in writing and read it thoroughly.

Next, ask about the facility's security system. Barbara Anderson says she didn't ask enough questions.

"If they tell you it's being videotaped, ask them how long they keep the tapes."

She also suggests a phone call to the local police department to find out if the facility is a favorite target of burglars.

"Ask how safe the area is. It turns out Mesa isn't one of the safest places to store things in," says Anderson. "The storage company doesn't have to report a theft to the police and the police told me storage companies won't report damage done to the facility during a break-in because it costs less to fix than the bad publicity."

Pick a safe neighborhood
Anderson says that if she ever rents storage space again she'll pick a safer neighborhood -- even if it means a longer drive.

She also suggests videotaping everything in your house for insurance purposes.

"Walk through your house and talk about the pieces. I mean how often do you talk about bedspreads? Open closets -- everything."

Good advice from someone who learned the hard way.

-- Posted: July 7, 2004

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