Suburban Storage Options Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Comedian George Carlin got it right—all we want is a little space for our stuff. Ample storage space is a precious commodity, and residents are often left on their own to invent creative ways to store bikes, sports equipment, holiday decorations, office supplies, out-of-season clothing, treasured collectibles and memorabilia and, ultimately, even more varieties of stuff.

"There is a need for more storage space, because property costs are getting so out of control that residents aren't looking to move—instead, they're looking to make do with what they have," says Josh Goldman, president of Bargold Storage Systems in Long Island City.

Suburban Storage

Though lack of storage space isn't as big a deal in suburban communities as it is in the heart of the cities, providing individual units for any residents' possessions is becoming an increasingly popular amenity among homeowners associations. Extra storage space can also attract buyers, and by charging residents for the use of the units, the amenity can fast become an additional revenue stream for the HOA.

Before investing the time and money, survey your residents to see if they are truly interested.

"In the city, we're in an apartment building as small as nine units and that's okay," says Goldman, "but in New Jersey for example, it wouldn't pay to put in storage units in an association with just nine units—you would probably want a minimum of 20 interested units. It all depends on the amount of units you have in the building. You need to know there is actually demand."

Safety is also a consideration in high-risk neighborhoods.

Storage Options

Once interest in determined, there are several storage and leasing/purchasing options to consider—including style, location and size. How much income an association will garner can depend on which option is chosen.

Typically, larger walk-in storage units are installed in interior sections of buildings only—mostly in basements—but they can also be set up on residential floors. The units are made of either stainless steel or a wire mesh.

"Our solid-steel units—steel roofs, sides and backs—come with a three-inch raised base which basically prevents any water from coming in,' says Michael Lewis, vice president of sales at A&D Steel Equipment Company Inc. in Long Island City.

Another New Jersey company, Secure Storage Solutions, custom-builds its own steel storage units and installs them free of charge to any sized-association, according to Jim Buckley, who is also the president and CEO of Buckley Management.

Many times an association will have a basement cluttered with boxes of storage that had been there for the past 20 years or so, with items that previous owners have left behind. "We'll clean up that area, get rid of that mess, build steel bins, pay for the installation, permitting, sprinklering, etc. We rent them out to the membership, and then give 25 percent back to the association," explains Buckley.

The units can be customized to any need, he says, and Secure Storage provides full service management, inspection, and financial upkeep of the units. "We do our own construction. We customize the size, look at the area's layout, and then customize the units to what their needs and wants are. We build them from scratch. They can be any color you want."

Water damage is a primary concern among residents who wish to store treasured valuables in their unit and as a result, Goldman suggests to tenants that they use these units to store other, less valuable items.

"We inform our residents what not to store in these units, because it's an environment where you can't control the humidity," says Goldman. "So you don't want to store antiques or artwork."

The units are raised off the ground to help reduce the risk of any potential water damage. Goldman also suggests to tenants that they store items such as table leaves, extra folding chairs, poker tables, and smaller items in waterproof canisters, such as Tupperware, in the unit.

"Depending on the height, you can store skis or bicycles inside the locker, but typically the buildings we deal with have bike rooms," says Lewis. Shelving is also an option.

The contents of solid steel storage units are not visible and although the unit is secure, it is not airtight. Solid steel storage units are also the most expensive of the two styles.

Other Alternatives

If residents want smaller units or the basement is not a storage option, consider this: what is on the walls of the garage behind the parked cars? In most cases, it's empty wall space—and Gary Flyer, president of in Riverdale says that there are smaller storage units available that can fit more compact spaces.

"In the garage, people are using them for car seats, golf clubs, strollers, shopping carts, snow tires, balcony furniture, and it even will hold 24 file boxes," says Flyer. "Many apartment buildings don't have dedicated rooms for storage, and this is a way to take advantage of unused space."

Turning storage units into an income-generating possibility will depend on which leasing or purchasing option you choose. For example, Flyer installs these garage units for $675 each, or rents them for $14.75 per month for 60 months with a $10 purchase option. "The association is charged $14.75 and then charges the resident $25 or $30 per month."

Since Lewis' firm is a manufacturing company, the units are sold directly to the association and no leasing/renting options are available. The average price for units sold through a manufacturer may range from $500 and up for a wire storage unit and $700 and up for a solid steel unit.

Firms like Goldman's do not charge one installation price, but instead typically install the unit and charge each tenant member of the association a base price of $50 per month—depending on the package—and remit 25 percent back to the association.

"We don't ask for any money, but we rent it and run it for you," says Goldman. "You are making money from day one."

A private self-storage company, like Public Storage, says Buckley, will probably charge about $80 a month, whereas his company will charge about half that. "We manage the space, collect the rents, and then give back 25 percent. It's a solution, an amenity and certain income. It's a win-win for everyone."

Other Considerations

As with just about everything else, there are liabilities to consider when installing individual storage units in your association, including the possibility that tenants may get injured when retrieving something out of their unit. The company that leases or manufacturers these units generally carry insurance that protects the association from any potential injuries from their units.

Another concern of signing any tenant agreement is the tenant's ability to pay the charges and the consequence if a tenant reneges on this agreement.

"We sign an occupancy agreement that allows us, if someone is not paying, to auction their stuff off within four months," says Goldman. "At month three is when we have to post advertisements, serve them with a certified letter, and take precaution notifying them that they are in trouble."

Goldman also explains that it's best not to know exactly what your tenants are storing. "If you were aware that something was being stored and it got damaged, it could spell trouble from a liability perspective."

Occasionally, storage units can break, or after significant wear-and-tear, leave something to be desired. All manufacturing companies fully warranty their unit for the unit for normal wear and tear, returning for repairs and updates.

Stow It!

Even if you're a spacious association spread over several acres, storage space may be an attractive amenity for your residents. If you're a high- or mid-rise building, space may be available in the basement—or you may be able to offer individual storage spaces somewhere else on your property. Whatever the case, with a thorough consultation and proper installation, storage space may be not only a welcome addition for your current residents, but may be an attractive extra for those looking to buy in.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie, New York.

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