Guest Post: Open Up! It's the Police: Managing Criminal Investigations at Self Storage Facilities By Scott Zucker
When the police or any law enforcement arrives at a self storage facility, the reaction of most managers is the same. What do I do? Can I get in trouble for helping the police? Can I get in trouble for not helping? Do they need a subpoena or a search warrant? What documents can I show them? Can I let them in a unit?
These concerns are absolutely justified. It is disconcerting when the police arrive at a facility since it suggests a problem is occurring on the property. Their arrival does elevate the responsibilities of the owner or manager to properly handle the process of investigation that is about to occur. So the following are some guidelines to consider when your facility is approached by law enforcement:
1. Be friendly and cooperative. Although the situation may be unnerving, you have done nothing wrong; so there is no reason not to be helpful and polite.
2. Ask for identification. Depending on what is being asked, explain that you’ll need to prepare an incident report and you’ll need their names and contact information. These days most law enforcement officers have business cards. Getting their cards is sufficient.
3. Listen to their questions. If they just ask for what YOU have seen and heard concerning a situation, you can provide that information. There are no privacy concerns about what you may have personally witnessed.
4. You can provide the Rent Roll. If they ask to confirm if a particular person is a tenant, you have the right to provide that “rent roll” information (i.e. name of tenant and occupied unit). At the same time, you have the right NOT to provide the information and ask instead for a subpoena for the turnover of ANY records to the police. The choice is yours – but understand that the facility OWNS the information as to who their tenant is and what unit they occupy. That information can be provided upon request.
5. Ask for a Subpoena. If they ask to see the tenant’s file (which contains other information about the tenant, including address, social security number, financial billing info, etc), you are within your rights to deny such a request until a subpoena is provided. However – there are also times where the police can DEMAND such information (for example in “exigent” circumstances- where a person’s life is at risk) and you should NEVER refuse to provide information when the police or any law enforcement demands its turnover. That’s why you prepare an incident report- to record the events. It may later turn out that the search was unreasonable. If it was, you cannot be held responsible for providing the information, since it was incident to a demand from law enforcement.
6. Ask for a Search Warrant.If they ask to enter a tenant’s unit, the answer is the same as a subpoena. Generally, you are within your rights to deny such a request until a search warrant is provided. However – there are also times where the police can DEMAND such access and you should NEVER refuse to provide such access when the police or any law enforcement demands entry.
7. There are exceptions to the rules. Another situation where access is permitted is when law enforcement authorities seek access into a tenant space which is delinquent. If a facility has already cut the tenant’s lock for the purpose of performing an inventory on the delinquent unit, it appears to be a right of the facility to allow access to that delinquent unit without the need of a search warrant. Similarly, warrantless searches are allowed for tenants who are on probation or parole. The law provides that those individuals who are on probation or parole do not enjoy the same expectations of privacy as ordinary citizens. Once again, it is always best to request that the police officers obtain a search warrant to search a tenant’s space. Ultimately, whether a search was proper will be an issue to be resolved between the tenant and the law enforcement agency.
8. Amend your Rental Agreements. As the likelihood of these police searches increases, facility operators should consider amending their rental agreements to explain the operator’s rights and protections in these matters. For example, the agreement should state that the facility retains the right to provide authorities information concerning all of its tenants. Such provisions may make a facility manager feel more comfortable answering questions about a tenant instead of worrying that they are violating privacy laws.
In this day and age, it is inevitable that facility managers and operators will have to deal with investigations from law enforcement agencies. The easiest way to respond is to be prepared. At the end of the day, there is no liability to a self storage owner or manager who follows the law.]]>