Multifamily Storage Options A Place for All My Stuff

Multifamily Storage Options

The perks of living in New York are obvious to anyone reading these pages, and won’t be listed here. But there is one glaring drawback to city life: lack of space. We all have winter coats we don’t need in August, air conditioners we don’t use in February, and a lifetime of old tax returns, pay stubs and old issues of magazines we subscribed to in 1992 that we can’t bear to part with. Where to put all that stuff? It won’t all fit under the bed.

Almost since their inception, co-op and condo buildings and many HOAs have sought creative solutions to their residents’ storage challenges. Some convert basement space to storage units, others make available racks for bicycles. But the demand for more storage space is as limitless as the human capacity for nostalgia.

“Every building has, needs, or wants to re-do their storage area,” says Josh Goldman, president of Bargold Storage Systems in Long Island City. “Storage is the single most-used amenity, even more than laundry.”

A parking spot, says Goldman, is not a necessary amenity to the many New Yorkers unburdened by having to own a car. Laundry can be taken to the wash-and-fold and returned lovingly clean and folded. But extra space for extra stuff? “Everyone will take advantage of it,” he says. “If a building has storage, it’s something everyone can use. You want to get your name on that list. Even if you don’t need it, you’ll use it. New developments allocate space for everything, and will usually have a storage area or a storage room.”

Steel vs. Wire

One type of storage unit is made of wire—either woven or welded. These are essentially wire cages that occupy the basement rooms of many a New York building.

There are three advantages to wire units. The first? “Cost,” says Devon Fields, a customer service representative for SpaceGuard Products in Seymour, Indiana, a company that manufactures the units for all markets, including the Big Apple. “Wire is significantly cheaper than fully enclosed units.” For a building that was going to purchase and maintain the units in-house, that’s valuable.

The second advantage is mobility. “You have the ability move it around,” Fields explains. “It’s anchored to the floor, so it won’t go anywhere if you don't want it to. But if you do want to, you can unlock it and move it around” for greater flexibility. These units are analogous to freestanding, more modular bookcases versus ones built directly into the wall.

Lastly, there's the matter of oversight. “Tenants may like the privacy of a solid storage unit, but usually building management likes the open wire mesh so you have a visual of what’s being stored in there,” Jamie Barnard, the president of College Point-based Giant Industrial Installations, a tri-state representative for WireCrafters LLC.

Because there are some limitations on what can be legally stored in these units; you can’t roll up your Rembrandts and leave them there; you can’t have a contractor workspace in there; you can’t put in a cot and sublet it to your buddy who's passing through town. The wire makes it difficult to conceal what’s inside the cage. For boards that have concerns about residents ignoring the system, wire is the way to go. There is also the fact that fully enclosed units can look a bit claustrophobic, particularly in a subterranean space like a building basement.

Because of these advantages, about 90 percent of Barnard’s clients choose to go with the wire option, he says.

However, as handy as it is, wire does also have its downsides—and some of its advantages might not be as advantageous as they seem at first glance.

First, the wire does not keep out dust, which tends to accumulate in even the most spic-and-span basements. “You generally don't want to keep alternate season clothing in a wire unit,” Goldman says. The clothes would be ruined.

Dust isn’t the only thing that can get through the diamond openings in the wire. Mice, rats, cockroaches, and any other sort of thing that goes bump in the night can have a field day in those cages. This can be unsanitary, and it also limits what can be stored in the wire unit.

The argument that wire units allow a board greater oversight isn't entirely accurate, Goldman says. “People store things in boxes. You still won’t have any idea what’s in those boxes.”

Then there is the issue of security. While wire units, with good padlocks, in a residential building, should be reasonably secure, the fact remain that even six-gauge steel wire can be cut through more easily than a solid steel wall. Solid steel can also protect better against fire.“I hate to use the cliché, but [solid steel units] are the Cadillac of the industry,” Goldman says. “If you want to keep yourself secure, and dust and vermin free,” fully enclosed is the way to go, he says.

Rent vs. Own

Buildings have two options with storage units: they can install them at their own expense, and then rent them going forward and collect that revenue forever after—which will wind up generating some revenue, especially if the units are wire. Or they can have a storage company building the units and handle the rental, and recoup a percentage of the take.

While pretty much any storage company will construct a storage room for a fee and then end the arrangement, its business model is built on the rental. The firm comes in, designs the room, builds it with the aforementioned wire or full-enclosed steel, and then handle all aspects of the rental process.

“There is no out-of-pocket expense,” Goldman says. “In New York, we’re charging $54 a month for a single steel unit. Twenty-five percent goes to the board. We provide detailed paperwork, so there is complete transparency.” Some firms also will throw in a bike rack or other storage element to sweeten the deal.

Rental rates for storage lockers, as with most fees on services to shareholders or association members, are set with an eye to balancing profit with providing an amenity. “Some buildings want to provide the amenity and keep the cost down,” explains Barnard. “They look at it as increasing values. The more amenities you have the higher the property values.”

The rent vs. buy argument is not just a matter of math, but also of extreme weather. After Superstorm Sandy slammed the city in 2012, Goldman points out, buildings with badly flooded basements had to replace their self-owned storage units themselves. “With Sandy, we had to refurbish about 400 units that got flooded,” he says. “If you own them yourself, you’re responsible for that.”

Bicycle Racks

Someone who lived in New York from 1995-2005, moved upstate, and then returned in recent months to visit—this writer, say—would immediately notice the preponderance of bicycles in the city. Bikes are everywhere—as suddenly and ubiquitously as the cicadas this past summer.

With the new emphasis on two-wheeled transportation comes a new issue: where to store all these bikes. We have all been to apartments where bicycles are hanging on the wall by the kitchen table, but that is not the most efficient use of space. For that, it’s best to call in the experts.

Tracie Roberson is the president of Cycle Storage Solutions, a company based in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, that designs and manufactures custom-made bike racks that are then installed all over the country.

“We make all the racks at our facility,” she says. “All are made of steel,” and coated to protect from the elements. One of the rack products is a tiered bike rack, that lifts the bicycles off the floor so stuff can be placed underneath it. These can be modified in many ways—one is to fit spaces with low ceilings. “We can save you space, so your bike room is not only cleaner but more efficient,” she says.

Roberson explains that one of the goals of the company is to protect the bike—not just store it effectively. “We make sure to hold the bike in such a way that is doesn’t bend the rims or scratch the paint,” she says.

Like storage locker firms, bike storage companies will draw a blueprint designed for maximum space efficiency based on the specs of your proposed bike room. Price ranges from $45 per bike—a one-time fee—to $85 a bike for more complicated tiered systems. These costs can easily be recouped by renting the units to cycling residents.

Goldman even speaks of a hanging bike rack that rotates around the room, like the hanging racks at the dry cleaners—it all depends on the wants, needs and budget of the building in question.

When it comes to storage, there appears to be no end to human ingenuity. But until some genius invents the shrink ray, or the teleporter—or both!—New Yorkers will always have need of space. It’s one way the Big Apple is small.

Greg Olear is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.

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