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DO-IT-YOURSELF : Time to Pack It in at Down-to-Earth Space Stations

July 03, 1993|MARESA ARCHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's an old Hollywood standby: unsuspecting star opens closet and contents come crashing down. The gag usually signals it's time to get rid of stuff or build a new closet or move to a larger house.

These days, the real-life solution to the too-much-stuff-and-nowhere-to-put-it problem is more likely to be renting a self-storage unit.

These closets for hire can be used to store everything from antique cars to excess furniture (that you just know you're going to need someday) to the ugly painting Aunt Sally gave you that is only hung when she's visiting.

Self-storage facilities, first popularized during the '70s, are now a part of the '90s urban landscape--Orange County has more than 100 such facilities, dotted along freeways and major thoroughfares for easy access and visibility.

These oversized lockers have taken the place of attics and basements that went the way of broom closets during the Western building boom of the past two decades. Whether additional space is needed long-term or short-term, self-storage has proven to be a practical solution for many people.

"People store their Christmas decorations or canoes and camping equipment--stuff they don't use that often and don't want cluttering up their homes," said Robert Kanneg, area manager for Royce Self Storage, which has facilities in Westminster and Santa Ana.

Using self-storage places works much like renting someone's garage. The owners of the excess stuff pack the goods, take them to the rented space, then unload them, using the owners' own locks to secure the unit.

Most Orange County sites offer unlimited access during operating hours, which generally are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, excluding major holidays.

Expect differences in price and amount of security at each facility. Units are available in a variety of sizes, but nearly all are 10 feet tall. The smaller units tend to be about 4 feet wide by 4 feet long and usually rent for less than $20 per month. A large 10 wide by 63-foot long unit will usually rent for more than $400 monthly.

The most popular storage unit size is 10 feet wide by 10 feet long--which fully packed can accommodate most of the contents of a three-bedroom house--and rents for an average of $70.

In general, there are two types of units: those with entrances in the interior of a building and those entered from a roll-up door outside.

Each has its benefits. Inside units are usually cheaper and have the additional security of two locked doors--that of the building and that of the unit. One of the disadvantages is these are often in multileveled buildings that may or may not have freight elevators.

With an exterior unit, you can drive directly up to the door for easy unloading. These are more expensive, however.

When choosing a storage facility, inquire about specials. Some facilities will provide a truck for new tenants to use free within a certain radius and for a specified time. For people who live outside the radius, they will often discount the first month's rent. Others offer the 13th month free if the rent is paid a year in advance.

Security is an issue at all facilities: Clients want to be sure that their things will be safe and facility managers know that a record of break-ins will cripple a business.

Monitoring who moves in and out of the facility and what they are doing while there is becoming increasingly important--the bomb that exploded at the World Trade Center in New York was made at a self-storage unit.

"Despite that recent tarnish on our image, our industry has moved toward more monitoring of tenants and more sophisticated security systems," said Robert L. Brown, executive director of the national Self Storage Assn. "If a manager is doing (his or her) job, they will be there when a new tenant moves in and will in general keep a high profile on the grounds."

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Most facilities are built with only one exit and entrance, visible from the office. Almost all have managers who live on the premises.

With few exceptions, self-storage sites use electronic fences to control access. Some have tenants sign a log book at the office before they are given access to the property, whereas others have punch codes tenants can enter on an electronic pad to activate the gate. Both systems allow staff members to monitor who comes onto the property.

Many facilities have more advanced computerized systems. With these, every time a code is punched in, it is logged in the computer, which monitors the tenants' length of stay. There are also surveillance cameras photographing anyone on the property. Many facilities also have infrared alarms activated by anyone hopping the fence after hours. Others have alarms on each unit that are deactivated when a tenant enters a code to get through the gate.

All this high-tech security seems to be working, as there are few break-ins at self-storage facilities. In Anaheim--which like Westminster, Garden Grove and Santa Ana has a high concentration of self-storage businesses--police say they are rarely called to the facilities.

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