Communicate and Educate to Prevent Fire
Fire can take a devastating toll on your self-storage operation. It is one of the costliest causes of loss for property owners and insurance carriers. The aftermath of a fire can include costly repairs as well as lost income while spaces are unavailable to rent. Plus the negative visual impact of a damaged, burned-out building could make it difficult to rent units to prospective customers, and current tenants may have second thoughts about staying.
Incidents of devastating wildfires are on the rise. They happen more frequently and are increasingly more severe each year. The 2020 wildfire season in California was the most destructive on record with five of the six largest fires in the state's history occurring during the year. This trend has put a spotlight on the annual problem of wildfires across the western United States; however, fire from other sources is a threat to self-storage facilities throughout the country. Taking action to mitigate the potential risk of fire is a critical task for business owners.
Your rental lease should include specific wording prohibiting the storage of flammable materials. However, the wording of the lease has little value unless the manager points out the prohibitions and communicates them directly to the tenant at the time of lease. In addition, managers need to be trained to be out on the premises with tenants and speak up if they see a hazardous situation such as someone smoking in a unit, using a space heater, or overloading a power strip. Managers should also be aware that frequent visits to a unit by a tenant is a reason to identify the purpose of the visit.
Ongoing tenant education is a top priority when it comes to fire prevention at a self-storage facility, and regular communication to customers can go a long way toward mitigating the risk of fire on the property. Examples of tenant communication include the following:
Signage – Post “no smoking” signs throughout the facility as well as signs reminding tenants that the use of candles or other open flame is prohibited on the property.
Bill Reminders – When you send out bill reminders by mail or email, include brief educational messages and safety tips such as a list of items that are prohibited from being stored (such as gasoline, paint thinner, and propane) and reminders to drain fuel from lawn mowers, chain saws, gas generators, lanterns, and heaters prior to storage.
Hazard Reporting Hotline – Communicate to tenants that you care about their safety and need their help to keep the facility safe and secure. Encourage them to report safety hazards to the facility via a hotline telephone number and/or dedicated email address. Whenever a tenant makes a report, be sure to follow up to thank them and let them know that the issue is being addressed.
Schedule a policy review with your insurance agent to discuss your limits for property and liability coverages to include business interruption and umbrella to ensure that exposures from fire have been properly addressed. Staying vigilant to prevent the risk of fire is an important risk management strategy to help protect your valuable investment.