Ella Tayrien

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Ella Tayrien, Vice President of Claims, MiniCo Insurance Agency, LLC

December is here, bringing with it the possibility of wintry precipitation. And that possibility may be high, as meteorologists and farmer’s almanacs have already predicted harsh winters for much of the Northern United States. Chances are you’ve already started, or perhaps finished, winterizing your self-storage facility if it is located within an area with severe winter climates. With a long list of time-consuming maintenance duties to complete before the impending inclement weather, hopefully you haven’t missed anything that could make the property unsafe or leave it open to possible litigation.

In addition to clearing gutters, insulating outdoor pipes, replacing door seals, and the like, self-storage owners and operators should ensure that they have the proper contracts and coverage’s in place to protect their asset and their tenants’ belongings from the winter elements that can produce hazardous conditions.  

Be Prepared
While the weather outside may be frightful, there are plenty of ways to ensure that using your self-storage facility is a delightful experience. With the exception of free hot beverages, the majority of those revolve around safety.

“The No. 1 thing, no matter who owns the facility, is that it’s their responsibility to make the property safe,” says Ella Tayrien, vice president of claims for Phoenix, Ariz.-based MiniCo Insurance Agency, LLC, who adds that slip and fall incidents represent a large portion of the company’s wintertime claims. Thus, it is wise to review your facility’s insurance policies prior to the season.

Tayrien suggests that facility owners take the time to inventory the site’s winter supplies and contracts with snow removal vendors as well. “Have everything in place before the winter weather hits,” she says, adding that it’s best to be prepared.

Because snow removal contractors typically provide services based on the number of inches of snowfall, the weight of maintaining a safe site usually falls onto the managers’ shoulders. For that reason, they should have snow shovels, lock de-icer, and a stockpile of ice melt on hand to tackle precarious precipitation. Depending on the size of the property, as well as the terms of the snow removal contract, it may be necessary to invest in a salt spreader and/or snow blower to make the property safer for customers and winter maintenance less time consuming for managers.

With managers in mind, Tayrien mentions that they should be walking the entire self-storage site every morning to look for safety concerns such as black ice as well as snow or icicles that could drop off rooftops and onto customers. For the latter, self-storage owners could install snow retention devices to prevent snow from moving as it slowly melts.

She also advises managers to pay particularly close attention to the exterior loading dock areas of the facility. “Loading docks are notorious for ice,” says Tayrien, “even the covered ones. They are a hazard area in general.”

Accordingly, facility owners should consider providing managers with ice cleats to keep them safe as they clean the parking lots, entrances, sidewalks, and loading docks. This minimal expense—less than $50 per pair—can protect your managers from injuries. Nevertheless, Tayrien reports that the amount of slip and fall claims increases during the winter months, which is why it is important to have a workers compensation policy in place to avoid potential medical bills and/or lawsuits.

Of course, slips and falls are not the only incidents that occur during the winter months. Tayrien reminds self-storage owners and operators, especially those with facilities that offer climate-controlled units and wine storage, to be prepared for winter blackouts. “They should have backup generators on hand or access to them to keep operations going,” she says, noting that MiniCo has equipment breakdown coverage for commercial properties nationwide to protect critical business equipment. It complements existing commercial property policies and specifically addresses exposures related to equipment breakdown.

The two other frequently reported winter-related claims involve pipes bursting from freezing temperatures and roof collapses from the weight of snow and/or ice. Though many commercial insurance policies cover damages for these occurrences, Tayrien advises self-storage owners and operators to take the necessary precautions to prevent such incidents. Valves to outdoor faucets should be turned off and pipes exposed to the elements should be insulated to keep water from freezing within them. She notes that most claims from ruptured pipes occur within warehouses that were converted to self-storage facilities and have plumbing near the roofs. As for roof collapses, annual roof inspections are recommended to detect and correct potential issues. Though there’s nothing that can be done to lighten the weight of snow and ice, she says that routine maintenance can prolong the roof’s lifespan and durability.

Finally, with Christmas only days away, it’s a good time to advise customers to purchase a tenant insurance policy if your facility doesn’t already require them to have coverage for their stored possessions. This is even more appropriate if they intend to store gifts within their units. For customers who have tenant insurance and plan to put presents in storage, they should report the increase in value of their stored possessions. They may need to increase the policy coverage to include the worth of the stored gifts. Remember: ‘Tis better to be safe than sorry. MiniCo Insurance offers pay-with-rent and mail-in tenant insurance programs as well as captive insurance options.

What Not To Store
Extreme temperatures can wreak havoc on your tenants’ stored belongings. And many tenant insurance policies do not cover damage that occurs from freezing temperatures or surface water that trickles under roll-up doors as snow/ice melts. To prevent the winter weather from dampening your customers’ holiday cheer, remind them of the potential risks of storing the items listed below in non-climate-controlled units when temperatures drop.

‘Tis The Season
It may be the season of giving, but facilities that deliver impeccable winter maintenance will be on the receiving end of positive customer feedback. Keep in mind: Even if your facility is rarely visited during the wintertime, site safety is a top priority and should be treated as such.

  • Canned or bottled food and beverages – Although most self-storage facilities prohibit tenants from storing food for pest prevention, customers may be storing cases of bottled water, soda cans, and/or canned goods. Remind them that water and other liquids can expand during freezing temperatures, which can cause the bottles and cans to crack or explode. In fact, it takes less than an hour for a 16-ounce bottle of water to freeze at 32 degrees.
  • Aerosol cans – Freezing temperatures can cause pressurized cans to crack or explode.
  • Musical instruments – Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause the wood of musical instruments to warp, crack, or split. Additionally, metal strings on instruments can tighten and snap from the cold.
  • Electronics – Lithium-ion batteries can lose their power in winter temperatures. What’s more, repeated exposure to freezing and thawing can lead to condensation within the device. Either of those scenarios can damage the gadgets.
  • Medications – One of the reasons pharmaceutical representatives choose climate-controlled storage is the fact that medications can lose their potency and effectiveness when frozen.    
  • Paints – Water-based paints and latex paints can freeze, expand, separate, and clump in freezing temperatures. Once this happens, the paints are unusable.
  • Leather – Leather furniture and clothing is prone to discoloration or cracking when left in the cold.
  • Plastics – Some plastics can become brittle and less flexible in cold conditions, which could cause them to crack or break. 

Beside reminding tenants that winter weather can cause damage to their stored goods, suggest upgrading to climate-controlled storage units (if you offer them), placing their items on top of pallets, and purchasing tenant insurance that can protect their belongings from the other perils of the season, such as roof collapse from the weight of snow/ice or water damage from a ruptured pipe.

Erica Shatzer is the editor of Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Self-Storage Canada.

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