Death is an unfortunate event in life, that we regrettably deal with in the self-storage industry. It is a stressful experience for all parties involved that usually leaves the managers and/or owners thinking “What do I do next?”
The first thing you should always do after being notified that the tenant has passed is overlock the unit(s) in question. This does a few things that are important in a situation like this. First and foremost this ensures that you are in compliance with your local laws since it is required in some states. It also protects the items in the unit from anyone who shouldn’t have access. Finally, it forces anyone attempting to remove property from the unit to discuss the situation with you first which ultimately protects you and your business.
The second thing you should do-especially if you have never dealt with this situation before- is contact a lawyer who is well versed in self-storage and the laws in your state. You cannot be positive you are in compliance with the laws if you don’t know what they are. Unfortunately, death and money can make people act strangely, and at the end of the day your livelihood is at stake.
Once you have over locked the unit and contacted a lawyer you should leave the unit alone until the person with appropriate documentation comes to you. What is considered sufficient documentation may vary from state to state so be sure that you consult with your attorney and/or state laws so you know what to look for. For example, in most states the power of attorney or POA dies with the tenant so that would not be sufficient evidence that a party has the right to enter the unit. It is extremely important to follow all state laws to the “t” to save yourself from potential lawsuits in the future.
Now you might be thinking, “What if someone has the code and keys and goes to the unit by themselves?” The answer to this question can be considered somewhat of a grey area. In most states it is okay for someone to enter the unit IF they have BOTH the access code and keys. If they don’t have both of those items standard protocol should be followed. In other words, the manager/owner is not allowed to give the code or keys to allow access.
The most important thing to remember is that you are a business owner or manager and you must follow the laws in your state to prevent hardships later on. (For more information on tenant death and what to do check out this article or this article from ISS)