- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A self-storage rental unit can be as small as 4-by-4-by-3 feet and as large as 20-by-30 feet and can hold objects as small as a thimble or as large as a car. Rental costs range from $1 a month — a special rate for those pledging to stay longer — to $349 a month and more.

A home away from home it is not, even if most contractual agreements do treat the client as a lessee who is almost the equivalent of an apartment renter. Occasionally, desperate people have overstepped the boundaries and used such a facility as a temporary domicile, but this is an exception, say managers and spokesmen for the facilities, who report business is booming locally.

Advertisements in the Yellow Pages cover 18 pages and offer a range of services. One company, Public Storage, boasts 40 locations in the Washington area alone.

The H Street Self Storage building on H Street NE says it offers 25 sizes of units. R Street Self-Storage on R Street NE gives new renters two months at half price and accepts UPS deliveries for customers who leave a key in the office for this purpose.

Nearly every company offers renters some sort of enticement, including, on occasion, free use of a truck for moving goods into the facility. Some, including Self Storage Plus in Silver Spring, give student discounts and charge $1 the first month for anyone prepaying for a second month.

Storage unit renters usually are in some sort of transition. They can be college students putting up dorm-room possessions over the summer; relatives of older people moving into new homes or downsizing from old ones; professional employees between jobs and cities; or anyone whose possessions have outstripped the size of their current living space. The acquisitive nature of the consumer generation apparently has no limits.

Kurt Henry, 25, a high school physical education teacher and coach, is renting at Self Storage Plus in Silver Spring for a few months until he completes a move from nearby White Oak to Hyattsville. He didn’t look anywhere else because the facility was ideally placed between the two locations.

Essentially, the type of storage facility chosen is determined by the particular needs of the consumer. Self-storage comes in many forms: large converted warehouses or specially constructed buildings whose interiors are metal or wood or both. So-called mobile self-storage companies use trucks to deliver containers to the client’s home for later delivery back to a storage center.

The Self Storage Association in Springfield, a trade group, includes nearly all of these companies and says members did a total $15 billion business last year. In addition, the association runs a training program to give facility managers a certification. SSA President Michael Scanlon estimates there are “probably more than 600 facilities” in the Greater Washington area, similar to the numbers in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Miami — cities that, like the District, have very mobile populations.

“Americans have more transitions and lifestyles than other countries,” Mr. Scanlon notes. “A young couple comes together to get married, brings furniture from two different places. A couple downsizes at retirement. You have a young couple breaking up and need to break down a house. Or grandma passes on and you don’t know what to do with the antique furniture.”

Sixty percent of business is residential, the rest commercial. Fifty percent of the facilities belonging to the association have a resident manager, with the average residential customer staying 1 years.

Rental price is determined by the conveniences offered, but clients everywhere are required to provide their own locks. Lock costs average between $7 and $16, and most managers recommend a disc lock as the most secure. These usually are sold on-site.

Door to Door Storage and Moving, a mobile self-storage company, typically delivers wood containers — more “breathability than plastic,” says Larry Tuff, the firm’s vice president for operations — that are picked up and taken to a storage facility either close by or at a distant location.

“Cardboard boxes and packing materials are on the delivery truck, and drivers can sell insurance on the spot. The typical customer has a moderate income and doesn’t want to pay for moving across the country or bother with renting a truck,” he says.

Charges average between $2 and $3.50 a day, which he estimates is nearly half the cost of a full-service mover.The pick-up-and-deliver charge averages between $100 and $115, according to Ben Graham, national sales manager. Affiliates offer car towing.

Climate control obviously involves higher rates, but here again, there are different conditions and types of control. Very rare objects, wines or fine artwork and antiques require optimum care in surroundings far different from a facility that will accommodate cars. Charges depend on the type of space chosen and its accessibility. The price for a 5-by-10-foot unit — with ceilings averaging 10 feet — at Self Storage Plus in Silver Spring is $25 more for ground-floor units.

Gerry and Debroah Kregg, the husband-and-wife pair who live on-site to co-manage the 3-year-old, 947-unit facility on New Hampshire Avenue, boast of keeping a tight ship. Halls are spotless, and a video camera records all movements on a tape Mr. Kregg reviews daily. Clients have access only to the floor where their own unit is located.

“Nobody can get in and out without my seeing him,” says Mr. Kregg, a retired military man.

Potentially, the only burglars are other renters who have access to a floor during the hours posted, because each unit has its own numbered pass code. Mr. Kregg won’t offer a lease unless a client also has a lock. A button for emergency calls can be found on each floor. He does casual surveillance initially by helping new clients when they unload their belongings.

If a client fails to pay after plenty of warning in the time and method stipulated by contract, the Kreggs can hold a public auction of a unit’s contents. Notice of these can be found in local newspapers.

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