A Guide to Active Duty Storage

The differences between the lives of servicemen and women and the lives of civilians are many; one example is the frequency at which they move from home to home. The average American moves to a new house every five years or so. Military personnel are likely to move every 2.5 years, and these relocations are often to the other side of the country or to overseas bases.

Key Point Module

  • 1 You want your belongings to be waiting for you when you return. Make sure to ask about the facility’s security measures while making the decision about which one to use.
  • 2 Unfortunately, sometimes the worst does happen, so make sure you have factored the cost of storage insurance into your budget. Insurance is a requirement at many self-storage facilities.
  • 3 The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SRCA) prevents military personnel deployed overseas from being sued. Storage facilities can only put a lien on your unit or auction your belongings under special circumstances.
  • 4 Many self-storage facilities offer discounts to military personnel and their families that can help service members save money. Some types of storage may be eligible for government reimbursements, so ask about these at your base’s transport office.

It is widely agreed that moving to a new house is one of the most stressful experiences of military life. Active duty storage can help make these moves more manageable. This type of self-storage is for service members who are being deployed overseas and who need to store their belongings. Many military personnel heading overseas also use self-storage to store their vehicles.

For most servicemen and women, the most important consideration in self-storage is security. You don’t want to be worrying about your car, furniture or treasured belongings while also keeping the United States safe overseas. Knowing what to look for in a storage facility can give you peace of mind so you can concentrate on your job.

What Is Active Duty Storage?

Active duty storage is storage for service members and military families who are moving to a new base. Military service personnel and their families who are deployed to overseas duties don’t have the option of transporting large quantities to their new post. They must keep their things in stateside storage to make the move easier.

Self-storage is also used by military families moving to a new base within the United States. Although most eventually bring their belongings, self-storage is a good place to temporarily keep their things while looking for new lodgings. Self-storage can also be used to store bulky or unnecessary items in cases where you must move into a smaller and more affordable home in your newly assigned area.

Self-storage facilities generally come in either a garage-style open configuration or as units in a large enclosed building. Units inside a building are more likely to be climate-controlled, but garage-style places often have larger units that allow you to drive in and unload directly into your unit. A 10-foot by 15-foot unit enables you to store everything from a two-bedroom apartment, while a 10-foot by 20-foot unit is good for those with a larger house. Smaller and larger units may be available, depending on the specific configurations of the facility.

What to Know About Vehicle Storage

Depending on where you get stationed, it’s possible to have one privately-owned vehicle shipped overseas at the government’s expense. However, vehicle requirements are often different in other countries; it makes no sense to ship a car overseas if you can’t legally drive it when it arrives. Government storage may be available, but many service members find private self-storage a better option.

Car storage is available at many self-storage facilities, either in the open or in sheltered areas. Most cars fit inside a 10-foot by 20-foot storage unit, and a 10-foot by 30-foot unit may have enough space for you to keep both your car and your belongings safe from thieves and protected from the elements.

If you’re privately storing your car, the military reimburses part of the cost. This amount is usually equal to what the costs would be for the government to store the car in a facility. Prior to putting your car in storage, make sure you speak to the transport office at your home base about any paperwork needed for reimbursement. Also, remember to research how best to store your vehicle. For example, removing the wheels can keep them in good condition, and disconnecting the battery stops it from going flat.

What Should You Look For in Active Duty Storage?

Keeping your belongings safe is your priority, so be sure to look at the facility’s security measures. Perimeter fencing should be the minimum. Security cameras are another good sign that the facility is committed to keeping your things secure. Some self-storage facilities have management living on-site, so there’s always someone available in case of problems. Facilities that have patrolling security guards can also help keep units safe. Ask about how customers get in and out of the premises and make sure you have a sturdy lock to keep your unit’s door shut tightly.

Climate control is another important consideration. Make sure your belongings are protected from the elements, especially in a long-term storage situation. Climate-controlled units keep the temperature inside the units constant while controlling humidity and stopping your belongings from getting damp. When making the decision about climate control, think of it this way: if you’d be willing to store your things for twelve months in a normal house garage, you may not need climate control. On the flip side, electronics, wooden furniture and cloth and leather items should all be kept in a climate-controlled space to avoid mold and moisture damage.

Budget is a big concern for members of the military. Many self-storage facilities offer military discounts, and you should feel comfortable mentioning free trunk rentals and free use of dollies when inquiring about price. You can also ask about getting a larger unit at the price of a smaller unit.

Lastly, think about location. Keeping your things close to base is always a good option, but which base? If you know where you’ll be stationed when you return to the United States, it’s best to keep your belongings close to that base. You’ll avoid the time and expense of having to get everything transported while you’re busy settling into your new job and home. Storage facilities that are located close to bases regularly have military customers, so their personnel can give you advice about how to store your items while on deployment.

Self-Storage Danger Signs

Make sure you read the fine print. Many facilities quote a low price but have hidden fees such as mandatory insurance or set-up fees hidden in the contract. Many customers also complain about management being hard to reach when they need to ask a question or cancel their storage. Try calling them before committing, so you can be sure they answer their phone. Check Yelp and Google reviews. Although not all reviews are accurate or reliable, if you notice a pattern of bad management, then it’s probably best to steer clear.

If you see a facility whose public areas are in poor condition, treat it as a warning sign. If they can’t look after the outside of the units, how well-kept are the inside of the units? Keep an eye out for signs of rodents or insects. Although pests are impossible to keep out completely, if they’re plentiful they could get into your belongings and destroy your clothing, papers, furniture and other important items. Large puddles inside the hallways of the facility can be indicative of leaks inside the units as well.

Facilities located in bad or out-of-the-way neighborhoods tend to be cheaper, but they can also be at greater risk of burglary. It may be worth spending a bit more to know your belongings are in a safer area.

How to Shop for Active Duty Storage

Word of mouth is your best recommendation for good military storage. Start by asking other military families in the area. If you don’t know anyone yet, check online forums for military personnel or ask at your transport office.

If you can, visit in person and request to see the specific unit you’re renting, so you know exactly what you’re getting. If you can’t visit in person, ask them to send photos, and make sure you check the reviews online. Even if you book storage in advance, if you arrive and the facilities aren’t satisfactory, you can turn around and walk away. You may need to spend some more time finding an alternative option, but it’s better than leaving your things where they won’t be safe.

Here are some questions you should ask before deciding:

  • Do they offer a military discount or other benefits to military personnel and their families? What will you need to show to receive the discount? Most facilities will ask to see a valid military ID.
  • How do the fees work? Do they offer month-to-month or long-term contracts? A long-term contract may be less expensive and the better choice, especially if you know you’ll be stationed overseas for at least a year, but a month-by-month contract can be broken more easily if your circumstances change and you come home early.
  • How can you make payments? Is there an automatic debit option? Be wary of facilities that only take cash or check; make sure they’re able to accept payments via electronic banking or by processing your credit or debit card.
  • What are the facility’s gate and office hours? Gate hours are the hours when you can access your things; office hours are when the office is manned. If you don’t need to access your belongings regularly, the opening hours may not matter too much. However, if you come to the facility after the office has closed, you won’t be able to address any problems or issues until it opens the next day.

How Does the SCRA Affect Your Storage?

Generally, when someone doesn’t pay their storage fees, their belongings are auctioned off, as shown in reality TV shows. The laws about when and how facilities can do this are different in every state, but the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act overrides these laws for active-duty military personnel who are renting self-storage units. The law recognizes that service members may have difficulty paying bills or removing items from storage when deployed overseas and states that facilities are not permitted to auction off the contents of active-duty storage units.

If facilities wish to place a lien on or auction off your storage, they must get a court order. Courts generally side with service members while they are overseas, and the law even gives members a 90-day leeway period when they return to the United States. There are severe penalties for facilities that do sell your things, so to avoid these fines, it’s recommended that facilities check active-duty databases before selling the contents of storage units. It’s also a good practice to let them know you’re being deployed overseas. Facilities can ask you to sign a waiver of your SCRA rights when you sign a lease, but you’re under no obligation to do so. There are rules about these waivers, and waivers aren’t valid if the rules aren’t followed exactly. If the facility pressures you to sign a waiver, it’s probably a good indicator that you should find a different facility.

Active duty storage can help make overseas deployments or cross-country moves a little less stressful for servicemen and women. If you’re storing most of your belongings for an extended period of time, make sure you choose a facility that can keep them safe until your return to the United States.