3 Risks of Self-Storage Units and How to Keep Your Belongings Safer

Nick P. Cellucci
Written by Nick P. Cellucci
Updated December 27, 2021
Couple packing books in cardboard boxes
Photo: Rido / Adobe Stock


  • Self-storage facility risks include rain damage, mold, and theft.

  • Look for a well-maintained facility with climate-controlled units.

  • Security should include digital surveillance and access codes.

  • You can take personal measures to protect your stored belongings.

  • Purchase an insurance plan that covers off-premise property damage.

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If your home is feeling a little more crowded these days, you may be considering keeping some things in a storage unit or storage vault. Many rely on these units to clean up clutter or to help smooth the process of moving from one home to another. However, when you put your personal belongings in the care of a storage company, you may wonder how well they’re protected.

Before you sign a contract, we’ll help you understand the risks involved and the steps you can take to protect your property.

The Risks of a Self-Storage Unit

While locked rental storage units may seem like a safe place to store your belongings, there are many ways your property could be at risk while in storage.

Rain Damage

If the structural integrity of a storage unit is compromised, water may be able to enter and cause damage to your property. A leaky roof during a rainstorm can cause damage from above, while rising groundwater or an overflowing sump pump can bring in water from below.

Mold or Mildew

Even without heavy rains or flooding, the presence of moisture can lead to the growth of harmful mold or mildew. Units lacking in climate control features, such as air conditioning, are particularly susceptible to mold buildup, which can cause irreversible damage to your property.


Neglect from facility managers can lead to a host of problems. If pests such as rodents or insects are not dealt with, they can enter your unit and destroy your belongings. Burglary is another common issue, typically resulting from a lack of advanced security measures.

5 Self-Storage Unit Facility Security Features to Look For

Couple holding boxes in storage unit
Photo: Seventyfour / Adobe Stock

If you need storage, the best way to reduce those common risks and protect your belongings is to look for a self-storage company that provides tenants with some or all of the following security features.

1. A Well-Lit, Secure Facility

If you’re able to shop around, try to select a facility based on not just convenience but safety. If you need to drive further to store your property in a safer facility, you should do so. Look for a fully fenced building with both exterior and interior lighting that is either always lit or motion-activated. Make calls to facility managers and ask the following questions:

  • Is access restricted to tenants and employees only?

  • Do you require a unique access code at gates and doors?

  • What does your surveillance system consist of?

2. Digital Surveillance

When asking about surveillance, the ideal setup is 24-hour digitally stored video surveillance. This method is superior to videotape storage, offering higher video quality and a reduced risk of a lapse in coverage. Cameras should be placed strategically throughout the entire facility, not just at the entrance. Keypads with unique access codes are another great way to keep non-tenants out.

3. Climate Control

Especially if you live in an area that gets humid, you’ll want your unit to be climate-controlled to prevent mold buildup. Ask if you can control the temperature yourself or if it’s centrally managed. You may be able to pay more to have your own thermostat, which is useful if you’re storing sensitive items.

4. Regular Maintenance

Look for a well-maintained facility that is clean and regularly inspected. If you can see broken fencing or locking mechanisms, chances are that potential thieves can as well. Ask to see the facility’s pest control contract and inspect the unit you will be using to ensure that it cannot be infiltrated by water.

5. Proper Employee Protocol

Finally, it’s worth knowing the best practices that employees at your facility follow. For example, they should never keep a key to your secure storage unit on hand unless you authorize it. Instead, they should be doing daily checks on your unit to ensure that it’s properly locked and give you a call when it isn’t.

What Can You Do to Keep Your Belongings Safe?

Even with all those security features, there are still steps you should take as a tenant to protect your property while it’s in storage. Here are some tips to help you pick the right storage unit for your needs.

  • Choose an indoor unit. A unit inside a building is generally safer than an outdoor storage unit.

  • Bring your own lock. Choose a disc or cylinder lock that’s resistant to bolt cutters.

  • Don’t give out your code or key. You also shouldn’t tell anyone what you’re storing.

  • Purchase insurance. Choose a homeowners’ or renter’s policy that covers the contents of a storage unit, even if your facility doesn’t require insurance.

  • Only store what insurance will cover. Check with your provider if you’re unsure.

  • Never store irreplaceable valuables. Insurance can’t cover the sentimental value.

  • Keep an inventory. Write down everything you store to help with insurance claims.

  • Take photos. Keep a clear, well-lit photo record of everything in your storage unit.

Do You Need Self-Storage Unit Insurance?

Before signing a contract, know the storage facility’s policies regarding losses from damage or theft on their premises. Review the contract to learn how they respond to fires and other disasters. In many cases, storage companies will clearly state that they cannot be held responsible for damage to your stored belongings.

Storage facilities often allow you to take a risk and store your belongings without requiring insurance coverage. However, if the facility does not guarantee the safety of your possessions, you should purchase insurance. Some facilities offer tenant insurance on top of the cost to rent storage, but it tends to be less comprehensive than what you’ll find elsewhere.

Call your insurance company to determine what’s covered under your existing homeowners’ or renter’s insurance policy. You specifically want coverage for personal property off the premises of your insured home. If you don’t have either type of coverage, contact an independent insurance agent to help you find the appropriate coverage for your needs.

Covered events typically include theft, fire, and weather-related disasters, but you should clarify those terms with your agent. If needed, you may need to purchase additional coverage for damage or losses caused by floods, earthquakes, mold, mildew, vermin, or negligence.

Finally, know whether your policy protects actual cash value or replacement cost. Actual cash value policies only cover the depreciated value of the property. Replacement cost policies tend to cost more but will pay to replace your items in full. Keep in mind that sentimental value can’t be accounted for, so you shouldn’t store photographs or memorabilia that you can’t replace.

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