Booming, unregulated self storage market leaves some trapped

Call for tighter controls on rental hikes

Self Storage Market Leaves Some Customers Trapped

The self storage market is like the old Wild West: booming and unregulated.

Americans’ attachment to their belongings and various life transitions have contributed to a global self-storage market worth $54 billion, projected to reach a staggering $83.6 billion by 2027, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

One of the key issues in this industry is the lack of regulation, allowing storage owners to increase rates without restrictions, which often leaves customers feeling trapped due to the inconvenience and expense of relocating their possessions elsewhere.

Aspiring writer Christi Foist, for example, found herself caught in the escalating cost of self-storage units in Richmond, California.

Initially, her storage rent of $197 per month, which began in May 2018, seemed reasonable. However, as time passed her rental costs skyrocketed. By this fall, her 9-by-10 foot storage space cost $308 per month, representing a 56 percent increase over just five years.

Some of the most vulnerable users of self-storage units are homeless individuals who rely on those spaces to safeguard their important documents and possessions. Homeless people, unable to afford rent increases or with nowhere else to store their belongings, have seen their annual rent increase by as much as 30 percent, particularly during the pandemic.

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In California, self-storage companies typically send late notices 14 days after a missed payment, giving renters another 14 days to settle their debts. If not, the company can lock the unit and proceed with an auction of the contents.

While self-storage can be a lifeline for some  to maintain some semblance of stability, it is not without its challenges. Storage fees can become a significant portion of their income, and the loss of identification and other essential documents can hinder their path to securing housing.

Advocates argue that storage should be affordable, accessible, and safe for everyone, especially for those experiencing homelessness. While a few programs like the Bryant Homeless Storage Program in San Francisco offer free lockers for homeless individuals, such services remain scarce in most areas.

Foist, for her part, emptied her storage unit and drove to Alaska rather than stay in the never-ending loop of paying to store her things. 

— Ted Glanzer