Kathryn Farrell in Building Operations on March 5, 2019
In this densely packed city, every scrap of open space is treated like treasure. Open space in a basement is especially precious for storage, but if it’s unregulated it can turn into a monster headache – or, worse, into a fire hazard or a crippling legal liability.
“It’s a very difficult thing to manage,” says Dawn Dickstein, owner and principal of the management company MD Squared Property Group. Without rules, communal storage rooms can become “Dumpsters with doors on them,” according to Jamie Barnard, president at Giant Industrial, a storage system installer.
But for boards that choose not to install a storage system of bins or cages, communal storage space can be an amenity without any added expense. The key is keeping chaos at bay.
Step one is carving up the space. Dividing the room into smaller areas and assigning them to individual units can prevent one resident from hogging space – and sparking the ire of his neighbors. “[One building] had these wooden shelves that someone built back in the day,” says Brian Fink, vice president of sales at Bargold Storage Systems. Shelves of unknown provenance aren’t the only ad hoc system that boards have devised. “We see a lot of buildings with just painted yellow lines on the floor,” says Barnard of Giant Industrial.
Even a divided storage space needs policing. “It’s usually the poor super,” says Barnard. “They get the brunt from the property manager if it becomes sort of an unruly mess.” Without someone regularly checking in on the storage space, there’s nothing stopping residents from storing an extra dining room set or the entire lacrosse team’s equipment in their space, which could end up creating a trip-and-fall hazard.
“We really don’t want [residents] storing giant pieces of furniture here because they might fall on somebody’s head,” says Dickstein of MD Squared.
“When someone gets hurt by something that’s owned by another unit-owner,” says Kenny Boddye, business development manager at Kevin Davis Insurance Services, “it becomes very dicey very fast. The association wants to say, ‘This wasn’t our thing that hurt this person, it was owned by someone else.’ Then the person who owns the property that [caused the injury] says, ‘No, you guys are allowing this to be stored, and it happened on your premises, so you should cover it.’ And then you have the person who got hurt – their lawyer just wants to sue everyone.” That’s a serviceable definition of crippling legal liability.
One way to guard against this is to develop a storage room policy. It should cover what items can and cannot be stored, as well as who has access to the storage area, and when. It should also include a waiver that removes the building’s liability if any items are damaged or stolen, or if someone is injured.
“Put a sign on the door and say you’re storing at your own risk,” says Dickstein, “and management and the board take no responsibility for anything stored here.”
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