Self-storage: Is your stuff safe?

The thieves who broke into storage unit number 48 at the Public Storage facility in Federal Way two weeks ago left behind a television, several large items of furniture and piles of crumbled drywall.

They stole nearly $2,000 worth of electronics, clothing and cologne from a 30-year-old Federal Way man. They also stole several valuables from a 26-year-old Federal Way woman who rented an adjacent unit.

The thieves gained access to the units by breaking through the walls of a vacant neighboring unit, according to police reports.

As folks become more dependent on self-storage facilities to house their extra stuff, burglars are enjoying the opportunity to steal unsupervised valuables.

One in 11 American households rents space in a self-storage facility, according to the Self Storage Association.

There are nearly 52,000 self-storage facilities nationwide, occupying 2.2 billion square feet of space, said Timothy Dietz, spokesman for the Self Storage Association.

“It’s really part of our society,” Dietz said of self-storage.

As the industry grows, owners are trying to keep up with the demand for security by installing cameras, electronic keypads, alarms and even barbed wire fencing. Some units have late-night security patrols and others have resident managers.

Security at each storage facility varies greatly because there is no industry-wide standard, Dietz said. A large percentage of self-storage facilities are privately owned.

“You’re talking about a lot of ma and pops,” Dietz said. “It’s up to them to provide the safeguards that they hope their tenants will appreciate and give them business for.”

The best piece of advice Dietz offers for keeping items safe is thoroughly checking out the security of a potential storage facility.

Bob and Judy Morgan, resident managers at Century Square Self Storage in Federal Way, have seen numerous thefts from the various storage facilities they’ve worked at in the past 10 years. Security at each site varies greatly, they said.

Judy Morgan recalls one storage facility where tenants could stand on a chair to look over the wall into the neighboring unit. That architectural flaw was responsible for a number of thefts, she said.

Thefts appear to rise near the Christmas holidays and most are committed by tenants, Judy Morgan said.

One of the most important measures of a good self-storage facility is the location, she said.

“The neighborhood is very, very important,” she said, adding that storage units located along Pacific Highway South are not in desirable locations.

“If you wouldn’t feel free to walk in that neighborhood after dark, don’t store your goods there,” Bob Morgan said.

After choosing a neighborhood that feels safe, it is important to interview the management about security at the location, Judy Morgan said. Resident managers are ideal.

The Morgans, like many self-storage managers, live on the premises and can quickly respond to triggered alarms. At Century Square, the exterior fence has a motion detection alarm.

“If somebody grabs it and shakes it at 2 o’clock in the morning, alarms are going to go off and rock me out of bed,” Bob Morgan said.

Other good questions to ask include whether the premises are monitored 24 hours by camera. A good manager is unlikely to tell a tenant where all the cameras are, Bob Morgan said. But management might place you in a unit located in the view of a camera if you ask and one is available.

It is unlikely that any storage facility would have a camera monitoring every unit, Bob Morgan said.

“There’s just no way. The cost would be far too high,” he said.

Keypad-only access and limited operation hours are other tools to increase security at self-storage facilities. Some facilities go so far as to have alarms on each individual unit, although most don’t because of the increased cost.

“Those kind of electronic security systems you will pay for. It does cost more,” Bob Morgan said. “If you go for the rock bottom price, you’re going to get the rock bottom security. You get what you pay for.”

Judy Morgan suggested that the most valuable items in storage be stowed in the rear of the unit, where access to them will be limited by potential burglars. It is also important to choose a quality lock, such as a disk lock, she said.

No matter how many security measures a tenant and the storage owner take, self-storage burglary will remain a fact of life, just like home and commercial burglaries, Judy Morgan said.

“Nothing’s perfect,” she said. “If a burglar wants to get in, somehow, some way, he’ll manage.”

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565. recommends choosing a storage unit with the following security features:

General security alarms in each storage unit that is monitored.

Fire and smoke alarm systems that can contain accidental fires from spreading.

Restricted 24-hour access systems that track customers and visitors as they enter and leave the property.

Key code or swipe card access for your storage unit to track individuals accessing each storage unit itself.

Intercom systems that prevent unauthorized access to specific private areas.

CCTV video surveillance cameras that are monitored 24 hours a day with video verification to each corridor in the storage locations.

Residential managers that actually live on site to provide 24-hour service to your storage unit.

24-hour guard service or security guard spot service with detailed information.

Well-placed and well-lighted industrial-level lighting systems that act as an added deterrent. These can be motion sensitive on the internal and external buildings and corridors.

Perimeter fencing or concrete walls to prevent and deter thieves from entering or exiting the property undetected.

Reinforced storage units give added security against unwanted break-ins.

Sole key holder policy to ensure you are the only person with a key to your storage space.

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