Inside Self-Storage

MAY 2019

Inside Self-Storage (ISS) is an information source for industry owners, managers, developers and investors covering news, trends, facility operation, finance, real estate, construction, development, marketing, technology, insurance and legality.

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W hile attending a self-storage tradeshow in 2015, I was sitting at a table with 10 other facility operators, discussing unexpected events that can take place at a property. A gentleman who was obviously involved with one of the real estate investment trusts said his company experiences a fire about every other year at one of its 300-plus-unit facilities. At the time, I thought that was pretty good odds. Little did I know I'd experience this type of disaster firsthand within just a few days. Get to Work It was about 6:45 a.m. when I received the call from the local fire department. In denial, I assumed the best. I thought, surely, this wasn't a real emergency, just a faulty smoke alarm or something. Not seconds after that call, I received a text from a friend asking, "Is your facility on 35th Street on fire?" That was when I knew this wasn't good. On Sept. 15, 2015, my company's 20,000-square-foot, 136-unit climate-controlled facility in Tuscaloosa, Ala., caught on fire. I lived about 10 minutes away from the property. As I approached it from the highway, I began to see black smoke billowing out of the roof. I pulled up next to the fire trucks and saw investigators everywhere. I knew I had my hands full, but I also knew I had to gather my thoughts and get to work. Local media and customers began showing up at the facility asking questions and wanting to see the building. It was close to chaos. In that moment, I realized our primary task was to begin reaching out to tenants, informing them of what took place. I had my staff pull together all the rental agreements and create a spreadsheet listing the contact information and number for every occupied unit. We didn't have many answers to offer at this point, but it was important to let people know we were working on a resolution. If a customer hears nothing, he assumes nothing is happening. By Chris Rhodes Facing a Facility Fire As each hour passed, the smoke and heat left the building. About five hours after the fire was extinguished, I was able to go inside. There were only four units that were completely burnt to ash, but every unit in the entire facility was covered in smoke and soot, and anything stacked above about six feet was melted. Fortunately, the fire department was precise with its hoses and didn't flood the entire building. I pointed that out to the investigator, and he told me they must be specific with how much and where they spray water in an enclosed building, as sometimes the steam can be as dangerous as the fire itself. He also pointed out that self-storage fires are particularly treacherous because the hallways are like a maze, the facility is dark, it's hard to find the origin of the fire, and they often have to cut open unit doors to eliminate the inferno. You never know what's behind that door. Work With Tenants After reaching out to our insurance company and starting the claim process, we began to schedule appointments with tenants to review their units. We asked each of them to sign a liability waiver to enter the building due to the power outage and debris in the hallways. A hallway at All-American Self Storage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., before and after the fire (renovation) IN THE TRENCHES May 2019 I ISS 41

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