Too Much Stuff in Your House? Negotiating a Storage Unit Rental

Protecting yourself legally and financially when renting storage space for your stuff.

If you are considering renting a storage unit, you want to get the most bang for your buck. That means you probably want the maximum space, the least hassle, and the most flexibility, for the best price paid to the storage facility. When negotiating your agreement with the storage facility, what are some of the issues to consider?

Checking Out Your Storage Facility Options

Depending on where you live, you might have many storage facilities from which you could choose. Different facilities might specialize in different needs: for example, some might be aimed at college students storing bicycles and other small items between semesters, while others are aimed at homeowners who need to store large pieces of furniture that no longer fit in their houses.

Start with some basic online searches. Get a sense of what different companies are charging per square foot. Keep an eye out for discounts being offered. Once you have a good sense of the “going rate” for the type of space you’re interested in, you’ll be in a stronger bargaining position.

Signing a Legal Agreement With the Storage Facility

Renting a storage facility might not feel as “serious” as renting an apartment or leasing a car, but in fact, it’s a significant legal undertaking. You’ll be asked to sign a formal rental agreement with the storage facility, which will include a number of rights and conditions.

The significance of some of the terms will be obvious, like the monthly rent. But the rental agreement will include other important provisions too: When can you access the storage unit? If the storage facility decides to kick you out, does it need to give you notice? How much notice? If you fail to pay your monthly rent, is there a warning period before the facility can simply discard your belongings?

Often, if you’re dealing with a large storage facility company, these terms will not be negotiable. You will be handed a take-it-or-leave-it form agreement.

However, this is not always the case. Indeed, many companies eager to rent space might be willing to allow edits or amendments to their standard rental agreement. You should not be afraid to ask for edits to their agreement that run in your favor. For example, if the agreement states that you can be evicted from the unit with only seven days of notice, you should seek to strike that and ask for 30 days; if the agreement states that your belongings will be discarded if you fail to pay rent for a single month, you could ask for a two-month grace period.

Minimize Your Storage Needs

Not surprisingly, you’ll further strengthen your bargaining position by minimizing your space needs. When it comes to storage space, there’s a temptation to maximize rather than throw your belongings away.

Think critically about this instinct. Do you really need an 18’ x 18’ unit, or could you survive with only 10’ x 10’ if you discarded or donated a few big pieces of furniture? Perhaps, rather than paying to store a couch, you lend it to a friend who’s moving, or give it to charity. Perhaps you know deep down that you won’t really use that old television and VCR again. Before picking a storage space to match your stuff, start by reducing that stuff by 10-20%. You’ll see some immediate cost savings by curating.

Another way to minimize your needs is to split a larger storage unit with a friend or family member. Generally, the price per square foot decreases when you rent larger units. So if you have a friend with similar needs, you might be able to work out a creative split in which you would both end up paying less by renting a single, larger unit.

Rent at the Right Time

Summer tends to be a “hot” period for storage. People – especially tens of thousands of college students – are in periods of transition during these months. Consequently, it might not be smart to try to negotiate a rental in April or May, when everyone else is doing the same. This is a seller’s market.

You might get a better deal for the same rental term and space in February, for example. The exact timing might depend on your specific geography, but generally speaking, fewer people want to move furniture in the cold winter months.

Understanding the Storage Facility's Interests

You don’t need a lawyer to tell you that negotiation is about much more than money. The total number of dollars changing hands between you and the storage facility is but one aspect of the deal. Whenever two entities negotiate, it’s important to think about each entity’s interests.

You might think this is silly, since the storage facility wants lots of money while you obviously want to give it as littlemoney as possible. But indeed, there’s more to consider. The storage facility wants to ensure that it doesn’t have empty units. It also wants positive word of mouth, particularly if you’re living in a smaller or suburban community without large advertising channels.

To avoid having empty units, many companies might be willing to accept a lower monthly fee in exchange for a longer-term rental. Instead of renting a storage unit for $50/month for one year, you might offer to sign a two-year deal for $40/month. If you are reasonably certain that you’ll need the space for that long anyway – or think you could find a “subletter” after a year – this makes economic sense.

Another permutation could be a deal of $50/month for the first year, and $30/month for the second year. You save money, and the company has the certainty of knowing that it doesn’t need to worry about re-renting the unit.

How else can you sweeten the pie for the storage company? Bring more customers. If you guarantee the company that a friend or two will rent as well, you will certainly be in a far stronger bargaining position.

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