You just signed a lease on a storage unit last week and the lease terms prohibit living in the storage unit. Moreover, the facility has operation hours of (6 am to 9 pm or 10 pm). If you stay on the premises after these hours, it would constitute trespassing. However, considering the high cost of rent, you are making plans to get away with living in a storage unit.
Alright, let’s consider this. You’re well aware that you can’t technically live in a storage unit. The rent for a small unit is about 35 a month—that’s a bargain when compared to traditional rentals. Now, picture tossing a bed into this unit. You could then go out at night, and at the end of the day, simply walk over to your storage unit to sleep it off until morning. But the big question is how do you get away with it?
Can I live in a storage unit?
While it seems far-fetched, it is indeed a reality for some people—so, yes, you can live in a storage unit. Some low-income people manage to make it work by obtaining gym memberships at local establishments like the YMCA for essentials like showering and such.
Having spent time as a manager at a climate-controlled self-storage facility, here are a few tips:
- Sleeping there occasionally might not raise too many red flags, as long as you keep it discreet. You have to become a ghost to get away with living in a storage unit.
- Many storage facilities have office hours, but they also offer 24-hour access to your unit with a code-accessed door. You could go in at night, use your code, wait about 10 minutes, then use your code again but don’t actually leave. In the morning, use the code once, wait another 10 minutes, and then use the code again, this time to actually leave. From the system’s perspective, you didn’t stay the night, but visited briefly at night and again in the morning.
Storage facilities are managed by savvy operators who understand that people with low income may attempt to reside in their storage units. Moreover, many establishments use extensive surveillance measures, monitoring the activities of their customers. While 24/7 access can be convenient, it does imply constant observation too.
How to get away with living in a storage unit
It’s similar to squatting, except that there is no illegal subletter, the space is limited, and you are living invisibly like a rat risking it in your room simply because you litter cheese chunks at night before bed. Follow the steps below to get away with living in a storage unit:
1. Choosing a multi-tier storage facility
A sizable structure, such as a multi-tier storage facility, might be more suitable than a compact, ground-level one. As long as numerous clients are entering and leaving, you might manage to integrate discreetly. Nonetheless, be mindful of the potential risk: the more customers there are, the higher the chance someone might figure out your living situation and disclose it.
A friend has rented storage units to house bulkier household items while residing in a van. Keeping items like kitchenware, furniture, beds, and more ensured he could switch back to conventional housing if van life didn’t pan out.
Contemplate the option of renting a garage or storage structure on private property. You’re more likely to foster a personal relationship with an individual renting you a garage than with a large storage facility operator. An alternative could be to buy a storage building (like those available at Home Depot or Lowe’s) and set it up on private land.
A 10 by 10 barn-like shed from Lowe’s costs $1,098, translating to approximately $91.50 a month if paid off in a year. While I generally dislike credit cards and consumer credit, if you buy $2,000 worth of items, you could have 84 months to repay. This translates to about $24 a month, a rather affordable rent.
The advantage of a storage unit is its flexibility; if you choose to move on, there are no long-term commitments. Meanwhile, your rental insurance may not cover rodent damage for the storage unit, so make it a habit to keep the unit rodent-free.
2. Become a ghost
If you’re determined to get away with living in a storage unit, you want to maintain utmost discretion. Your goal should be to blend in and leave no trace of your unconventional habitation. Just become a ghost.
Transform your storage unit into a hidden dwelling with similar items as those required for camping, just within a sheltered, indoor environment that must remain undisclosed.
3. Get a dummy lock
Since storage units aren’t designed for living, they typically don’t have an interior lock. To circumvent this issue and deflect any inquisitive observers, you could use a counterfeit magnetic lock on the external part of the door while installing a workable latch on the inside. This makes the door appear to be locked from the outside, thus securing the covert nature of your dwelling.
4. Rent a small office space instead
An alternative idea would be to rent a small office space rather than a storage unit. For instance, you could rent a tiny office in a facility that offers office rentals. A friend of mine lived in one for about a year, the total cost being around $80 a month (which included a bathroom down the hall).
If you take a look under ‘housing > office & commercial’ on Craigslist, the cheapest available space in some areas might cost about $175/mo, including amenities like free WiFi, utilities, kitchen, and assigned parking.
Though this might seem illegal, zoning laws typically separate buildings into business, residential, or industrial categories, with subcategories below that. An office building would typically not be zoned residential, so the owner of the building could face significant legal repercussions for leasing space for residential purposes. Thus, most landlords wouldn’t allow you to turn their office space into an apartment. If caught, you’d likely violate your lease and face consequences such as eviction, loss of deposits, fines, and more.
5. Consider van dwelling
Van dwelling is the most efficient way to evade rent, taxes, and the like, compared to living in a storage unit. But people have also resided in other low-cost circumstances. For instance, people stay in what was virtually a squat of four deserted apartments.
While no federal law bans sleeping in your car, unless you’re intoxicated, each state and city has its own rules known as vehicle habitation laws.¹ Make sure to understand local and state laws, such as zoning and time limits, otherwise, a police officer may soon tap on your window.
The ideal arrangement, I believe, is to purchase a small, overlooked plot of land, preferably overgrown or having some other feature that hides your activities, and construct a shelter. A location like the Slabs would be perfect, barring the fact that it sees a high volume of foot traffic. Any structure there must be continuously occupied, or others may dismantle it to repurpose the materials.
If you’re homeless and need a secure place to store your belongings or are concerned about theft, securing storage for legitimate reasons is highly advisable. Use it to store seasonal clothing, items you find that may be useful, or food from food banks that you can’t carry. Sleep during the day if you have no alternative. A few hours of deep sleep can be more beneficial than a night of interrupted sleep in the open. This can help you maintain a semblance of normalcy, with the only missing piece being regular showers.
Here a video of Oliver Kuiz who lived in a storage unit for 2 months over winter lived to save money.
What would happen if you lived in a storage unit?
Ignoring the guidelines of a storage unit lease could result in more than just eviction; the storage company could lock your unit, denying your access. For example, if you’re found inside “after hours”, it could be perceived as trespassing, leading to your eviction by law enforcement, or even arrest. If they notify the police about you residing in the unit, charges such as vagrancy could be brought against you. Simultaneously, the costs related to the storage unit continue to accrue. If you can’t cover these charges and don’t have an alternative location to relocate your belongings, the storage company retains the right to auction off your possessions (typically after a 3-6 month period, although this may vary according to local regulations). Until the unit’s rent and fees are cleared, you’ll not be able to retrieve anything inside. If you’re charged with vagrancy, you might be fortunate if they don’t require a law enforcement officer to supervise you while you pack up and remove your belongings from the property.
As a former employee of a storage facility, I can tell you that regulations tend to become stricter, not more relaxed, particularly with regard to living in units. If you’re dwelling in a unit, you’ll be seen as a liability, even a criminal, by the owner, and they’ll act accordingly.
By the way, “squatter’s rights” do not apply to places not designated for residential use.² If they did, you’d likely be stepping over homeless individuals while going through stores like Pier One or Mattress World.
Yet, some people have managed to live in such spaces for years. In one case, when management discovered someone living in their unit, an additional monthly fee of $50 was agreed upon, and the arrangement was allowed to continue. Perhaps, you might be fortunate to find a storage unit like this one. That’s how you get away with living in a storage unit. Just be a ghost.
Read also: landlords can take away parking space