Falling victim to a burglary is always devastating, but having your possessions stolen from a self-storage unit usually comes as a complete shock.

But is self-storage burglary actually a big problem and are customers facing a greater crime risk than they were five or 10 years ago?

There isn’t much hard data on this issue, and self-storage break-ins often go unreported, said Jon Loftin, vice president of business development at PTI Security Systems, which specializes in self-storage security hardware and software.

Self-storage issues are gaining popularity thanks to shows like “Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters,” so it’s possible that this form of theft is simply receiving more attention from news media than it has in the past.

According to the 2012 Self-Storage Almanac, compiled by MiniCo Insurance Agency, seven percent of facilities in the U.S. had reported break-ins or thefts in the previous year, down from 18.2 percent in 2010. With that decline, burglary may be a rare occurrence at self-storage facilities, but customers should still remain vigilant.

In the same way you may rely on alarm systems and neighborhood watch programs to protect your home from burglars, you should be proactive about preventing theft at your self-storage unit.

Choosing a Secure Self-Storage Facility

Your first line of defense is choosing a self-storage facility that is well-maintained and secure.

To safeguard your stored goods and avoid the cost of replacing stolen items, always review the security features at a facility before renting a unit, said Andrew Schrage, co-owner of personal finance website MoneyCrashers.com.

Before booking a facility, review all of the listed security features, call the manager if you need any clarification and, if possible, visit the facility in person. Here’s what to look for:

  • Choose a facility that is well-lit and has functional indoor and outdoor lighting.
  • Look for facilities with gated access. Inspect the perimeter to make sure the fence or gate appears secure.
  • Observe the number and placement of video surveillance cameras.
  • Find out if the facility has a relationship with the local police and how often they surveil the area.

Next Level Security

Video surveillance technology can deter would-be thieves who spot the security cameras. However, Loftin pointed out that the primary function of surveillance is to help managers review what went wrong after a burglary, rather than to stop one from occurring in the first place.

If you’re serious about giving your items the highest level of security, Loftin recommends selecting a facility with an access control system and individual door alarms, which are the best tools for preventing burglaries.

Access Control Systems

An access control system requires renters to use individual codes, remotes or security cards to enter the facility. This technology not only gives self-storage managers a record of who’s using the facility at all times, but makes it harder for would-be burglars to enter.

Individual Door Alarms

Individual door alarms provide an additional layer of security by immediately alerting self-storage operators if an unauthorized user enters a certain unit. Loftin said that these alarms are particularly effective in protecting against a common type of self-storage theft—an existing customer clearing out another customer’s unit.

Taking Safety Into Your Own Hands

Even after you’ve chosen a secure storage facility, you still can take steps to make sure your belongings are safe.

Avoid the “Crash and Grab”

If you have a few high-value items among your stored possessions, Loftin recommends placing those valuables in the back of your unit. Doing so can protect your most important belongings from what he refers to as a “crash and grab” theft.

In this type of burglary, thieves break into several units and quickly seize whatever looks like it holds the most value. Because these burglaries often happen so quickly–usually in a matter of minutes–crooks will be less likely to snatch important items if you’ve made them more difficult to grab.

Choose Your Lock Carefully

Many storage facilities also let you choose your own lock for your unit’s door. Take the time to choose a lock that will hold up against bolt cutters, Schrage said. You should avoid buying a lock with a long shackle, which is the loop that passes through or around the object you’re locking. Instead, Loftin recommends purchasing a disc lock or a cylinder lock, both of which are difficult to cut.

Advertisement