We all know that we should pay close attention to the contract small print before we commit to anything just in case there is something in there to catch us out. In this respect, self-storage is no different to any other business. Whilst the majority of self-storage providers are reputable and business-like, every contract can have its drawbacks and, all too often, we fail to check the contract small print carefully because it's full of incomprehensible 'legalese'. A good tip is to ask for a sample contract from every self-storage facility you're interested in. Take the contracts home and read them carefully. This will not only help you choose the right self-storage provider for your needs but will prevent any nasty surprises later on down the road that you should have picked up in the contract.
There are certain points of contract that you need to watch out for whilst choosing a self-storage facility.
General Contract Agreements
Your rights and goods will be protected by the contract you sign or a license agreement. Although this contract may all seem fairly straightforward, it's wise to remember that the self-storage company also has to use the contract to protect themselves. For example, you'll need to know what happens if you miss payments - even if this is through no fault of your own, some self-storage facilities may simply use the contract to close down your unit with no notice, access your stored items and hold them as forfeit or send them to auction. You also need to check on the self-storage company's stance on employee access. In most cases they should not access your unit unless you default on payment or there is an emergency. Some contracts also allow the self-storage facility to move your stuff from one storage unit to another at their discretion. This is fine in an emergency but unacceptable if they simply want to offer your prime slot to another customer.
'Free' Equipment and Vehicle Use
Most self-storage facilities will offer free use of certain vehicles and equipment if you sign a contract with them. This looks great on paper - a free removal truck or trailer to get your stuff to the self-storage facility and free trolleys to cart it into your unit. You may need to leave a deposit, but this is usually fully refundable. If you read the small print in the contract or question staff about it you might find that 'free' doesn't always mean free of charge. Trucks, trailers and moving equipment may only be offered free for a limited time. Once you exceed the free period, you could be charged for both time and mileage at high rates. If you think you'll need longer than the facility can offer, check out your other options, as it may be more cost effective to actually hire elsewhere.
Although some self-storage operators won't insist that you take out insurance, most will recommend that you do. You'll often find clauses in contracts stating that not having insurance may reduce your rights if unforeseen accidents occur. Some self-storage companies will even insist that you take out either their own insurance policies or those of their recommended partners. You need to check that the rates on offer are competitive and that the policies are suited to your needs. It's also important to look over the facility's general insurance contract and any that you purchase through them. At the very least you want the kind of cover offered by traditional home insurers, as well as options targeted at the industry in general.
A quick look over any contract can bring to light additional charges that you may not have originally factored into your budget. For example, some self-storage facilities will insist in their contract with you that you buy a unit padlock from them - whilst these padlocks can be extremely secure and may be insurance approved, they can also work out to be more expensive than buying your own. You should never be charged to access your unit in self-storage, however some self-storage facilities will levy charges on things like car-parking. Many now also offer storage materials on site such as boxes, tape and marker pens - these won't be free.
Some self-storage operators market services such as labor to help pack, move or store your stuff. Unless they have a special promotion on it's unlikely that these services will be free and you need to check on actual costs before you commit to them.
Deposits, Rental Terms and Notice Periods
Any reputable self-storage company will ask for a deposit before you sign up to use their facilities (unless they have a special offer on). This deposit should be refundable when you take your stuff out of storage and you should always check the deposit conditions before you apply. Most self-storage facilities simply require that the unit is left empty and in good condition, whereas some will impose unachievable conditions whose only guarantee is that you won't get your money back. If you are paying regular rental and insurance charges, you should also check that you will be given a refund for time you do not use if you terminate your contract mid-payment term. Some operators will not refund in this way and you could lose money. It's also key to look at the minimum and maximum rental periods. You'll generally be looking for minimum periods of 7 days through to one month with no maximum. Self-storage is no use to you if the maximum period is not open. The same can be said of notice periods. Most companies understand that the key advantage to self-storage is flexibility and speed of access so won't set notice periods too high. If they're asking you for more than a month's notice then you probably shouldn't be using the facility unless you know exactly when you'll be taking your stuff out or you're a business user with a fixed long-term contract.
Climate and/or Dust Control
Many self-storage operators advertise state of the art climate and/or dust controlled storage. Be aware that the cost of renting such a unit may be higher than that of a basic unit. It's a good option if you need extra protection for your stored items, but if it's not essential you could be wasting your money.