Self-storage units have become something of a “spare room” for many Americans. According to an online trade association study, 40% of people lease a storage unit.
David Levine, a retired hotel executive, knows the value of space. He and his family have spent at least $10,000 leasing extra space to store belongings.
"We had our (things) from other homes that we owned that we wanted to bring back and keep in a safe place,” Levine explained.
The industry of self-storage units is worth multiple billions. In Shelby County alone, FOX13 found 35 different brands. Public Storage, Extra Space, U-Haul have multiple locations in the area.
The industry brags that the number of storage units outnumbers McDonald’s locations, but in their neon signs you won’t see any information about the possibility of break-ins.
Levine's unit was hit by burglars twice.
"The first time the thieves came in and all they did was pop off this hasp or plate, and it rendered the lock useless. It came off with the plate,” he said.
Months later, and MPD report shows his East Memphis storage unit was burglarized again.
"They came in and just cut with a saw or snippers… so it didn't matter how good the lock was,” Lavine explained.
Colonel Worthy said it's hard to stop thieves, especially if the location is not taking all necessary precautions.
"(Thieves) come in through the fence. They come in through the front gate," Col. Worthy told FOX13.
And if you’re thinking it’s not likely you’ll get hit twice, think again.
“If they think they've got a real good hit at that location, usually within about 6 months they may come back. Same as with an apartment or house,” Col. Worthy said.
Big storage companies push extra safety through specific kinds of locks, most of which are sold at the counter.
Levine told FOX13 he purchased the recommended circular lock, but it was no match for the jaws of bolt cutters.
The thieves are fast. We timed video of a burglar using bolt cutters to break into units. He cut the lock in five seconds. Within 15 seconds, he was raising the storage unit door.
Regardless, police advise buying the strongest lock possible.
Another piece of advice from police is to make sure you visit your unit at least once a month.
Col. Worthy also recommends visiting a prospective unit at all times of the day.
Before you go rent it, go by there in the daytime, go by there in the dark,” he said. “I drove up to one, drove up to the front gate and I couldn’t see the back. It was completely dark.”
Levine essentially got hit a third time when his family’s insurance claim was denied.
"We did not have either photographs or receipts for merchandise that was in many cases old, but valuable,” he explained.
Since then, his family moved their remaining items out of the unit and out of the state.