With several provinces announcing a mandatory shutdown of non-essential business, and likely more to follow in coming days, the CSSA is working hard to understand our role and designation in this changing environment.
The question operators are asking is if self-storage businesses are able to open and operate during these shutdowns. Although there are some glaring differences in provincial wording when it comes to the description of an essential service, there are also some commonalities.
None of the descriptions of essential services list self-storage as a permitted business. There have been many interpretations of the language, by industry professionals, government employees, and advocates. The opinions vary wildly. Some feel the language allows operators to continue business; while others feel that it is does not. This lack of clear direction poses a challenge for the industry, in terms of consistency and providing a unified position.
There is, however, some commonality that we can safely point towards. In all of the descriptions of essential services, there are similar versions of statements that indicate “businesses that support essential businesses, or essential services are considered an essential business”.
Our industry provides storage space to many individuals and businesses. We know statistically, that a reasonably large percentage of self-storage space is rented to commercial customers. These commercial customers store a wide range of goods including medical supplies, safety equipment, pharmaceuticals, essential consumer goods, construction materials, tools, and a variety of other items that are critical for essential services and businesses to remain operational. Further, we have many individuals that maintain vital equipment and goods within there personal spaces, in which access to would constitute an emergency.
With this, our advisors unanimously indicate that as an industry, we should be able to retain the ability to provide continued access.
Additionally, our industry is busiest in times of change. As students and seniors are being displaced from high risk housing, and people continue to face everyday tragedies such as fires, floods, and other issues, our services are in high demand. It is clear that in these times, our customers are not attending storage facilities out of a desire, but out of genuine need.
With this, our advisors are divided on what the language permits as it pertains to the continued operation of the business and rental to the general public. While we cannot provide clear direction, we can provide some insight into what some of our operators have and decided to do, based on their own interpretation.
Many operators are allowing regular access to all existing customers. Gates and entry points are largely unrestricted, and follow normal operating procedures. Access to these facilities do not require the involvement of an employee. In some cases, normal operating hours are modified.
Some operators have restricted access to existing customers, by significantly reducing access hours, and/or requiring an employee to provide access. In some cases, only customers requiring emergency access, or those involved with an essential service are permitted entry.
Few operators have closed access to the business entirely.
Office & Employees
Many operators have closed the offices and there are no employees on site. In many of these cases, operators are still performing rentals online. Many are also employing the services of internal resources, or external security companies to monitor the facilities throughout the day and night.
Some operators are operating with employee manned offices. These operators are restricting access by locking the office doors, requiring an appointment, or pre-assessing customers before they are permitted entry. Some are only renting to customers that demonstrate, or make claim, that they have a genuine or bona fide emergency or essential need.
Few operators are operating with normal staffing. Some maintain regular hours while others reduced hours of operation. These facilities are largely observing heightened precautions consistent with recommendations from health departments.
So, what does that mean exactly? The answer is not clear cut, and all operators are well advised to seek a legal opinion before making the decision to continue operations in any capacity. Further, the CSSA, its employees and directors cannot, and do not make any recommendation or endorsement on the matter.
We implore all operators and members of the CSSA to follow the guidelines provided by federal and provincial governments, as well as health officials. As we have more clear direction, updates or information, we will provide it to you.
President – Canadian Self Storage Association
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