TSSA Webinar: Coronavirus and Self Storage in Texas

Ann Parham was invited to participate in a TSSA webinar to talk about the effect of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and self storage operations best practices and challenges.

Ginny Sutton 0:00

My name is Jenny Sutton. I’m the executive director for the Texas Self Storage Association. And I want to both welcome you and let you know that we understand that now is a very stressful time. …So as you know, we’re here today to talk about the effect of the coronavirus crisis and self-storage operations…

Ginny Sutton 1:26

…So what we’re going to talk about today is we’re going to talk about the legal elements of this virus, the effect of it, the orders that have come down, the definitions on the federal level, this is why we have our attorney Connie Heyer here with us. We’re going to talk about operational issues, whether or not people are keeping their offices open. Are they keeping their gates open? I hope so. We’re going to talk about that in a minute. How they’re handling managers, are they having their managers come on-site, or are they are having them work remotely? We’re going to talk about all those kinds of things then we’re going to get into some of the more tricky things like rent increases and auctions and evictions and things like that but no one really wants to talk about but you know, are a part of our business and a reality for us. We’re going to talk about some of the good things that are coming out of this whole experience. …. I’ll just call on you one at a time. Tell people who you are, what your brand is, the facilities that you own, or manage and if you want to where you’re located.

Ann Parham 5:37

I’m Ann Parham with the Parham Group. One of our companies is Joshua Management, which is the property management part of the group. I own Noah’s Ark Self Storage, based out of North of San Antonio, Texas, and have been in the business for over 33 years.

Ginny Sutton 6:13

So, I don’t think I said this adequately at the beginning of the event. But we are so, so thankful to these folks for being a part of this. And when we started trying to organize this webinar, we tried to jump on it pretty quickly. And the truth is, there are no real best practice playbooks on this yet. You probably saw that on the promo, we’re making it up as we go. Everyone is doing the best they can making business decisions as best they can trying to follow legal guidance. But it’s not like there’s a book that we can refer to this is a once in a lifetime event, hopefully. And you know, these folks are not putting themselves out there as the experts or the authorities. They’re willing to share with you what they are doing out there to run their own business. I hope all the members appreciate that you know, these people are basically sticking their necks out and sharing what they’re doing to manage their properties the best they can. And then, of course, we have our legal counsel here to make sure that everything we say is aboveboard, and that we’re doing what is allowed by law and that we’re not doing anything that will get any of us in trouble. 

Ginny Sutton 16:04

All right. So let’s get into some of the nitty-gritty as far as operations go. And what I’m going to do is ask this question ask the various questions. And I’m just going to pull the group one at a time and ask them what they’re doing. Let’s start with just generally, what are you doing in terms of your facilities? Are they open? Is the office open? What are you doing with regard to interacting with your customers?

Ann Parham 21:19

So, basically the same thing. We are open for business, managers are on-site. Back in 2009 when the swine flu hit, we instituted a protocol as far as hand sanitizer, not shaking hands with customers, maintaining six feet, and we kind of just reinstituted that when everything happened and kept our doors open. We are asking, we have a sign on the door that says only one person in the office at a time. I do have a couple of sites where I’ve said that you know, they can come in at 10 and leave at 2 or 3. As long as the property is you know, needs to have eyes layed on and make sure everything’s okay, that nothing’s happened overnight. Because I don’t know if y’all any day you’re close, that’s when things happen. And the building is our biggest asset. So, but out of an abundance of caution for our managers, we’ve given them the option if they don’t feel comfortable. I do have a couple of managers that have auto-immune deficiencies. They’ve asked that they not be made to come to work, we’ve allowed that to happen. We’ve covered where we need to. I have older people, I have people that have worked for me for 20 years. And I’ve allowed them because I feel like they’re in the risk part of it. I’ve allowed them to stay at home. Just you know, my obligation is to the business but it’s also to my employees and keeping my employees safe. And so it’s been a balance of trying to keep the doors open. Of course, the gate is open, the doors are open. All of that is open for anyone who’s already rented. I think this is going to test our online capability with everybody. I will tell other managers of smaller facilities that you can do a lot over the phone. And if people don’t have, you know, access to the computer, whatever that can be done. But it’s definitely uncharted waters, and we’re kind of making decisions every day on the fly.

Ginny Sutton 32:55

…I did have a question that popped up that I think should be addressed. I think both Ann, you and Amy said that you had at least one employee who had an immunocompromised and, you know, whatever is called the immunity compromise. The question from one of our participants is what are you doing in that circumstance? And maybe you’ve said this already, but you are you closing the facility, you have other people, you know, kind of jumping in and covering it, and how are you handling that?

Ann Parham 34:36

I, fortunately, in this situation, have other people that can cover so they’re just going home and isolating themselves from everybody, so it hasn’t affected the business at all. I have enough that I can cover for each one. I’m going to say that my managers have been awesome on this. They have absolutely stepped up and their viewpoint is we’re going to do whatever we have to do. So it’s, that’s been a really good thing.

Ginny Sutton 43:31

What are you doing in the way of collections, we’ll start with that, we’ll kind of do rounds where collections and we’ll get into late fees and options, but just in general, our collections still happening at your properties?

Ann Parham 46:31

I think what we’re gonna do is the same thing, it’s a case by case basis, I’m going to let the process go through because if it comes to a point where I need to have to be able to prove losses during this time, I need to be able to have the late fees charged and then what I had to waive, any auction process to go through, but we’re going to be talking to our customers. I feel like my managers know the customers they know who what I call our usual suspects are that constantly play this late game and then hopefully we will be able to have a conversation with people that may have lost their job, especially like trying, to stay in the restaurant business, that’s been a huge hit in our area. But being reasonable at this point, the balance that I keep talking about, and John said it, but as far as the process, I’m gonna just allow the process to go through, and then we will just be in contact with customers.

Ann Parham 53:04

Ginny, I have a question for Connie that might be pertinent.

Ann Parham 53:09

Because we have lived our life by the law of the lease. And are we going to put ourselves in any kind of legal risk by individually dealing with people on a case by case basis? Because we always, you know, I tell my managers to go back to the lease, go back to the lease. And if I end up, you know, charging late fees on one, but I don’t charge on another, am I going to have a legal issue where people are going to come back and say, well, you didn’t charge us, I found out my neighbor didn’t get charged. You know, is there something in math that we need to be aware of, too?

Connie Heyer 53:43

I think that’s a really good question. What I would suggest is if you’re waiving late fees, or treating people in a disparate manner, make it make a notation in your logs as to the circumstances what you…it’s fine to treat people differently cause someone who this is the first time he’s late is very different than someone that this is the 8th month that he’s late right? That’s very different circumstances be able to justify your decision based on the facts. What is the only thing that is illegal I mean, you can treat me differently because you don’t like me that’s perfectly legal. But what is not legal is treating me differently because I’m a woman or my religion, my race, color, sex, religion, national origin, you know, the fair housing type issues, justify your disparate treatment on an on a non illegally discriminatory basis. Not you know, not because someone is Hispanic or Muslim or what have you. And obviously, no one is going to do right but just make sure you can justify your decision. Keep whatever notes of conversations. I’m not worried but you are smart to have the audit trail banker.

Ginny Sutton 54:56

…Do we want to talk at all about security, Donald, when we were meeting earlier, you mentioned some concerns about security and I think that’s worthy of bringing up at this point. And then I have a couple of questions from people about sanitizing the office. They want some legal guidance and then some practical guidance.

Ann Parham 57:25

I think that some of us have access to where we can see cameras remotely. And that’s not a bad idea to give your manager so they’re working at home that access, so they can keep an eye on the property, you know, via the security cameras.

Ginny Sutton 1:09:59

… And you know, so grateful to all of you for being a part of this. We could not be more grateful to you. We know you’re sticking your neck out to share what you’re doing and we’re grateful to you for being members. Thank you, everyone. Take care. We’ll post this love to all of you. Thank you.

You can watch the full webinar here.