13 Things You Should Know Before You Rent a Self-Storage Unit

Jenny Willden
Jan 23, 2023
Icon Time To Read8 min read

At a glance

There are several things you should know before renting a storage unit. For example, you need a photo ID to rent a storage unit—and you must purchase mandatory insurance coverage. While there are different types and sizes of storage units, you can usually save big bucks by getting several quotes from the best storage unit companies.

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Let us help you find the best storage solution for you

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Common storage unit questions

1. What should I look for in a self-storage unit?

Making sure the unit you rent is safe and secure is a top priority, but here are a few other self-storage services to check for before you commit:

  • Accessibility: Does the facility offer 24-hour access and weekend availability? Ensure you can get to your goods when you need them most.
  • Security: Locks, video monitoring, in-person surveillance, and security gates or doors all offer protection for your priceless items.
  • Pricing: Ask for specials and online discounts, and note any pricing variability in the contract to get the best bang for your buck.
  • Availability: If you need a specific size or type of unit, be sure your storage location has one open.
  • Location: While a facility closer to a city may be more convenient, it can cost you more. Balance convenience with price based on how often you need access to your unit.
  • Reviews: What current and former customers think matters. Surly staff, robbery reports, and one-star reviews should knock any self-storage facility off your list.

2. What do you need to rent a storage unit?

Prepare to show some identification: you must provide a valid, government-issued form of ID to rent your storage unit. Here are your options:

  • Driver's license
  • State ID
  • Passport
  • Military ID

You’ll also have to sign a storage unit agreement or contract (which you should definitely read from beginning to end!) and follow the rules it lays out.

3. How is the cost of a self-storage unit determined?

What you pay for your storage unit will vary based on the size of the unit and how long you plan to store your stuff. Many self-storage facilities offer month-to-month contracts, but you could get a discount by signing up for a longer term.

Pricing is also affected by availability. You can expect to pay more if most nearby storage facilities are already booked. Similarly, that means you can also find bargains if there are lots of vacant units.

Learn the ins and outs with our detailed self-storage pricing guide.

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Storage is for stuff

No matter how cheap the rent is, if you have a pulse, you don’t belong in a storage unit. Not only is it a violation of the lease to have humans or animals living in storage, but you could also get trapped if someone locks your unit from the outside!

4. How do you get your stuff to a storage unit?

While you can max out the trunk space in your Mazda, we suggest taking advantage of free truck rentals from select self-storage companies. A truck rental allows you to transport your bulky items in a single load, which cuts down the time (and headache) of moving into or out of your unit.

Storage unit companies like CubeSmart and Life Storage offer rental trucks at select locations. And if you’re storing with U-Haul, you can rent a truck for a day.

Info Box
Don't ignore your TV

A storage unit has its uses, but don't store your TV just because you're not sure whether to get cable or satellite (or cut the cord) at your new home.

5. Can you rent a storage unit for a week?

No, you typically can’t rent a storage unit for only one week. Most storage facility contracts require a one-month minimum. However, you can often save money by comparing quotes from several nearby locations. We’ve also found that Extra Space Storage generally has prices about $20 below the industry average.

6. Do you need a climate-controlled storage unit?

While all of your belongings can benefit from climate control, it’s especially important for items like clothing and furniture to prevent mold and mildew from growing. Protect your most prized possessions from extreme heat, cold, and humidity with climate-controlled storage units, which usually maintain temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees all year long.

Climate-controlled units generally cost more than standard storage, but the extra cost is worthwhile to ensure temperatures and humidity never rise or fall dramatically enough to damage your goods.

Here are a few items that we recommend placing in climate-controlled storage:

  • Wooden and leather furniture
  • Clothing
  • Photos
  • Artwork
  • Electronics
  • Instruments
  • Stamps
  • Household appliances
  • Antiques
Keep it cool

Protect your valuables from hot temperatures by renting a climate-controlled storage unit.

7. Can you work in a storage unit?

As tempting as it may be to use your storage unit as an office, don’t. Living or working in a storage unit is illegal and a violation of the terms of your lease.

You can, however, use your unit to store files and stash many other business-related goods. Plus, many storage facilities have on-site business centers where you can work, print documents, and mail packages. That’s a serious upgrade from working in a dark, windowless cavern!

8. Can you work on a car in a storage unit?

Since flammable and hazardous chemicals are no-nos in storage facilities, most reputable companies aren’t down to let you use your unit as your own personal auto body shop. Plus, the lack of electricity in storage units could make fixing a car inside a challenge.

That said, many top self-storage companies offer vehicle storage. So whether you’re stashing a vintage hot rod or keeping a car safe while you’re on an extended trip, self-storage units can be the perfect place to park your ride.

9. How do you save space in a storage unit?

Did you know that simply packing your belongings more efficiently may mean you can rent a smaller storage unit? This is one of the easiest ways to save on storage unit costs—so knowing how to pack is key.

  • Stack your stuff. Storage units typically have high ceilings. Use stackable bins and arrange furniture to fill the space all the way to the top.
  • Disassemble bulky furniture. Remove chair and table legs to stack and store furniture in less space.
  • Fill ‘er up. Don’t leave hollow spaces empty. Fill dressers or wardrobes with smaller items to maximize space.
  • Leave an aisle. The last thing you want to do is have to unload your whole storage unit whenever you need something. Leave space to get at your goods easily.

Follow our time-tested packing tips for loading your storage unit.

10. What can/can’t you store in a storage unit?

Storage units are built to hold household and business goods like furniture, files, and clothing. They are not designed for anything toxic, dangerous, or alive. Here are a few examples of what not to store:

  • Flammable or combustible items
  • Hazardous materials
  • Food or items that attract bugs
  • Living things (e.g., plants, animals, humans)

11. Do you need insurance for a storage unit?

Yes, you need insurance for a storage unit. However, what’s covered—and how much it costs—varies from company to company. Self-storage insurance options range from in-house coverage offered by top-tier storage facilities to using your personal insurance policy. Coverage usually protects against things like smoke damage, vandalism, and theft.

12. What do you do if your storage unit is broken into?

Your storage facility can have all the latest and greatest security features, and theft can still occur. If you’re a victim of a storage unit robbery, you’ll only be able to make an insurance claim if you’ve purchased a policy before placing your items in storage.

If you opted out, you’re likely up a creek without a paddle as the facility is not liable unless the theft was due to neglect (i.e., company staff left a gate or door unlocked). If you’re insured and a theft occurs, make a claim as soon as you find out what’s missing.

Make a list & check it twice

Make an inventory of everything you have stored in your unit to provide to your insurance company. This will simplify the claims process in the event of damage or theft.

13. When can I access my unit?

Most storage units can be accessed only during standard business hours. Some companies like Extra Space Storage offer 24-hour storage access. But even then, the hours might not be the same at the company’s thousands of locations. So we recommend playing it safe and not expecting access hours to last into the middle of the night.

Storage unit FAQ

What are self-storage unit access hours like?

Self-storage units are typically open during business hours, but many have 24-hour access. Check with your local self-storage facility for more details, including office hours and gate hours.

What is a climate-controlled storage unit?

A climate-controlled storage unit is an indoor unit that monitors the temperature and humidity. This storage option is best for renters who need long-term storage, have valuable belongings, or live somewhere with extreme temperatures.

Do temperature-controlled storage units cost more?

No, temperature-controlled storage units usually don’t cost more. While base prices are higher, these specialized units are almost always on sale. Move.org’s analysis of more than 2,500 quotes found that climate-controlled units cost about $10 less than normal units.

Do I need to buy a lock for my storage unit?

Yes, you need to buy a lock for your storage unit. Size requirements vary, so check with your storage facility’s store manager for more information.

Can I use a disc lock on my storage unit?

Yes, you can often use a disc lock on your storage unit. However, because not all storage unit companies allow disc locks, you should check with a storage manager before buying your disc lock.

What is tenant insurance?

Tenant insurance (also called renter’s insurance) refers to mandatory insurance required to rent storage space at a self-storage facility. You can typically buy tenant insurance from the storage unit company or your insurance broker.

Can I buy packing supplies at a self-storage facility?

Yes, you can typically buy packing supplies at a self-storage facility. Some storage unit companies even have storage experts to help you maximize your storage space.

Do storage containers have outlets?

Most storage units don’t come with electrical outlets. However, some self-storage companies will often install an outlet for an extra fee.

What happens when you leave something at a storage unit?

Self-storage companies list your items in a storage auction if you don’t retrieve them when your lease expires. However, storage companies don’t like auctions, so you may be able to work something out if you call the facility manager.

Do storage units go on your credit?

Failure to pay your storage unit bill can negatively affect your credit score. It’s one reason we recommend comparing storage quotes to find the cheapest self-storage options.

What type of information is needed to rent a storage unit?

Your self-storage facility requires photo identification (like a driver’s license). In addition, you’ll also need to sign a contract agreeing to the company’s rules.

What is the difference between an indoor and outdoor unit?

Indoor units are traditional storage spaces that aren’t exposed to the weather. On the other hand, outdoor units are typically used as parking spaces.

What do you mean by interior and exterior access units?

Your storage space will be inside of a storage facility if it has interior access. You can access the storage doors without entering a building if it has exterior access.

Can you put a mirror in a storage unit?

You can put a mirror in a storage unit. However, it’s essential to store it carefully, so the mirror doesn’t break. Many customers use climate-controlled storage for mirrors to prevent damage from moisture and extreme temperatures.

Can you store cleaning supplies in a storage unit?

Most facilities have storage restrictions that prevent you from storing cleaning supplies inside your storage space. Other prohibited items include firearms, food, money, and tires.

Jenny Willden
Written by
Jenny Willden
Jenny’s been writing stories since she first picked up a pencil and is lucky to call it her profession. She’s lived in five U.S. states (and counting) and uses her mishaps to help you master your next move.