The Costs Lurking in Self-Storage: Caught between a housing crisis and post-pandemic inflation, storage unit renters can become easy prey.

AuthorKuhlenbeck, Mike

The self-storage industry has proven to be a resilient force throughout the pandemic, thriving at a time when many of its renters are struggling to survive another day.

There are more self-storage units in the United States than in all other countries combined. With more than 50,500 self-storage facilities in 2021, the industry has grown considerably in the last fifteen years. According to a recent survey, 38 percent of Americans said they have used or plan to use self storage in the future. In 2020, the number of households renting self-storage units reached an all-time high of nearly 13.5 million, an increase of 3.5 million households since 2005, according to the Self Storage Association's (SSA) "Self Storage Demand Study for 2020."

The 2022 Self-Storage Almanac, the thirtieth edition by MiniCo Publishing, shares the SSAs optimism: "Amid a pandemic, election, and recession, the sector has proven itself a bulwark in times of trouble. Storage thrives in periods of disruption, and the United States has rarely seen such disruption in nearly every area." Self-storage facilities are good at generating passive income for their owners--they are less expensive to install or acquire, and then maintain, compared with other commercial structures such as shopping centers or office buildings. But like other rental properties, storage units are sometimes prone to owner neglect, leaving renters ensnared in various problems that plagued the industry even before the pandemic. According to the Better Business Bureau, some of the most common complaints by storage unit renters include hidden or additional charges, unreasonable terms buried in the fine print of contracts, property theft, poor security, a lack of cleanliness, and animal or insect infestations. There are also numerous reports of people's possessions being wrongfully auctioned off, as was the case with one active member of the Air Force, whose belongings were sold by a Massachusetts storage company while he was deployed overseas in 2019. Among the items that were sold were "mementos that belonged to a cousin who had been killed in action while also serving in the military; his grandfather's military medals; a dresser handmade by his great-grandfather; and family photographs," according to

While there is an abundance of research about self-storage facilities and their profitability, unfortunately, it reduces renters to nameless demographics. Industry reports do not take into account...

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