Q: My wife went a bit overboard with Christmas decorations this year, and now we need to rent a storage unit to put all of it. Does the BBB have tips regarding getting a storage unit?
A: Many families share your problem today. Folks rent self-storage units to empty overflowing basements; to stash furnishings while moving or remodeling; or to store business supplies for future use. While most facilities are operated by reputable businesses, Better Business Bureaus recommends checking out the business carefully before handing over your precious belongings.
In 2012, BBB received more than 1,000 complaints against self-storage units. Many of the complaints filed were from disgruntled consumers who were never able to access their storage units after paying a deposit, had goods damaged in the storage units, and even consumers that had their belongings taken from the storage unit.
Consumers are advised to shop carefully before signing on the dotted line. BBB recommends understanding seven major factors before selecting a temporary storage facility.
1) Cost. Obtain written cost estimates from at least three facilities. Most will insist on inspecting your items before offering an estimate. Costs to consider include the monthly rental fee (usually there are a minimum monthly storage charge and a minimum number of month's storage); storage preparation, padding, packing or transportation fees; and fees for extra options (electricity, pest control, insurance) you may choose. Ask how the fees are to be paid and by what date.
2) Size. What size storage units are available? Is there a maximum weight limit for unit contents? Can you jam-pack the entire unit from floor to ceiling?
3) Climate. Consider the general climate and whether your belongings might be subject to mold or water damage. If so, you may want to consider an environmentally-controlled unit.
4) Insurance. Make sure your items are insured from theft, fire or other damage. The facility may provide basic insurance or you can choose to purchase insurance from an alternate source. Some homeowners' policies cover self-storage; check with your insurance agent to be sure you are covered.
5) Safety. You will need a heavy-duty, secure lock protecting your storage unit. Ask if the facility has surveillance cameras on the property and if a system is in place to restrict access by strangers. Ask for contact information to reach someone at the facility in case of an emergency, both during and after business hours.
6) Contract. Get everything in writing -- the size and location of the unit, options (such as climate-control) that you have selected, termination regulations, insurance coverage, and payment terms. Make sure the facility has several different ways to get in touch with you (home phone, cell phone, email, etc.) in case there is ever a problem with your unit or your payment.
7) Access. What are the hours and related charges for accessing your unit? Is there adequate room for parking and is the distance from your car/truck to the rental unit acceptable? Does the facility offer dollies or hand trucks to help you move your belongings in and out? Access is very important; make sure you can easily move your possessions in and out of the storage unit.
Lastly, pay attention to your monthly bill or credit card statement to make sure you are up-to-date on your payments and being charged the correct amount. You do not want your storage unit to be labeled "abandoned" and put up for auction.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.