Public Storage Closes Early And Locks You Inside

Do you ever feel trapped by a company because of their ineffectual and unsympathetic ways? Reader Josh had that feeling because he and his friend Omar were literally trapped inside Public Storage for an hour-and-a-half when the facility locked its gates 10 minutes early. Omar called Public Storage’s 800 number, and after waiting on hold for 20 minutes, he was told to call a different number which also placed him on hold. Meanwhile, Josh decided to call the local police department who told them they had no way to open the gate. While searching the facility for a place to escape, they discovered the trailer where the manager lives. She was none too happy to help Josh and Omar and told them that their release would result in an extra charge on Omar’s bill. Josh’s letter, inside…

It’s 8:30, and my good friend Omar is moving out of his apartment this week. His car is full of junk, and before we go out to dinner he asks if we can stop by his Public Storage locker to drop this stuff off.

“Of course,” I said, “That seems harmless enough.”

These things only happen to me, I swear.

We arrived at Public Storage around 8:40, and Omar enters in the code to open the automated gate. On the way in we pass by several signs stating that the complex closes at 9:00, and we make a point of hurrying so that we can leave before that.

Our transaction with the locker is completed swiftly enough, but upon trying to exit Public Storage we discover that the gate code we used to enter the complex isn’t letting us leave. We’re trapped.

My emotional state during this episode was not very different than the stages of grief. At first we could hardly believe that the gate was locked, and merely assumed that we entered the gate code incorrectly. After numerous failed attempts to re-enter the code it became clear that we were stuck. I was angry.

Several obscenities later Omar attempts to contact Public Storage directly. Of course, by ‘directly’ I mean ‘He was put on hold for the better part of 20 minutes’ (how many people could the Public Storage help line be talking to at this hour?!) When he was finally able to speak to a live human being they told him he had called the wrong number to handle this sort of situation. They transferred to a second number, and another lengthy hold while I tried calling the police*.

In my hometown emergency services and pizza delivery men have the magical power to open any automated gate in the city. I’m not sure if this is because they know a special code or what, but in 23 years I have never seen a paramedic or Pizza Hut man locked out of an apartment or storage complex. If for some reason the gate is broken, the police officers in my city take great pleasure in calling up the biggest tow truck they have, and ripping the gate from its’ post.

This was not the case in Brea, California, where Public Storage seems to have some sort of control over the local township. Here is my conversation with the Brea Police.

“Brea Police Department.”

“Yes, my friend and I are trapped in a Public Storage complex. We think the gate is broken.”

“Oh, that’s no good.”

“…this is the police department, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Okay. Is there some way you could send someone down here to let us out.”

“Where did you say you were again?”

“Public Storage.”

“OH. Hold on.”

Lengthy pause.

“No. We have no way of opening the gate.”

“No way whatsoever.”

“What if our cars were on fire?”

“Hold on.”

At this point I seriously considered setting our cars on fire.

“No. There’s nothing we could do.”

“So you’d let this place burn down?”

“There’s nothing we could do. You should try to park your cars and hop over a fence.”

After a solid 30 minutes trying to escape the Public Storage complex Omar and I start to accept the possibility that we may be trapped there until morning. My house is fifty miles away, and the only competent person I know within driving distance is at my side. I decide to wander the complex aimlessly, hoping to find a second exit that we may have missed. Fire code be damned, there is one way in and out of this god forsaken storage complex, and that’s it.

Several more minutes of searching pass before we discover a small trailer connected to Public Storage, but separated by a tiny wooden fence. Given that we’re in an industrial park I become highly suspicious, and peer over the fence to discover a small family living living there!

We shout and scream, trying to get their attention. No response. In desperation I grab a pen from my pocket and throw it at their window. Bingo! A middle-age woman opens their back door and starts to yell at us for trespassing. I try to explain to her that we are locked in, but she immediately takes a rude tone with us. She is the alleged manager of the complex (why neither of the 1-800 numbers we called told us there was someone on-property, I don’t know,) and bitterly tells us to park our cars and come back for them in the morning.

Multiple times we try to explain to her that we were locked into the complex prematurely. She suggests otherwise, but we know we’re right. How do we know? Because Omar didn’t try calling the 1-800 numbers until 9:01 (according to his phone’s time stamp) a full 10-15 minutes after we discovered that the gate wasn’t working! After a brief verbal struggled she decided to let us out, but said that she was going to put an extra charge on Omar’s PS account because of the whole ordeal. This was around 10:20, well over an hour after we were locked in.

Yes, I realize the best job you could get was night watchman at a Public Storage complex, but you should at least make a point of setting your watch correctly. If for some reason we didn’t notice the mobile home we might still be there.

Sigh..

* Of course I called the non-emregency lines. Some good that did me!

We always thought the Public Storage buildings were supposed to represent a lighthouse, not a prison guard tower. In case Omar receives a bill for this event, make sure you document who you spoke to and what time you called. It could be invaluable information if it becomes necessary to dispute the charges.

Comments

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  1. donkeyjote says:

    The op should be grateful. That hour and a half he was locked prevented him from being in his car getting hit by drunk drivers racing around town….

    … That’s the best I can do at this ungodly hour. :/

  2. P41 says:

    If the lady is still vindictive after waking up in the morning and still charges extra, be sure to point out that you’d be within your rights to demand money from THEM. Even if “kidnapping for ransom” or your mental anguish don’t fly, at the very least it’s fraud. You are a PAYING customer, right? Paying for the place to be open the posted hours? Ding ding.

    Oh, but police don’t put out fires. You have to ask something police related like bank robbery, dead body, being held hostage, that sort of thing. Fire department’s the one to ask about cars being on fire or maybe if your friend is having ‘chest pains’. Now that’d start a lot of excitement!

    If you had started something on fire, be sure to be dazed and confused when they rescue you. Look at that ‘hiker’ who started that big forest a few years ago fire as a signal fire, the ratio of fine paid to houses burned down came to only a few dollars per house.

    PS, I take it either the gate looked too strong to be pushed open with the car or you didn’t want to risk getting stuck with the bill.

  3. donkeyjote says:

    Also, you should have called the emergency line once it was clear that you couldn’t get in contact with someone.

  4. XivGNP says:

    I wonder, would this sort of thing be a case of unlawful imprisonment? I guess i’m unsure on the technicalities of what that would constitute, since these people technically had a method of escape (using their cars to hop the fence out), but the fact the manager threatened the one with an extra charge on their account to let them out sounds ten kinds of f-ed up. I’m usually not a fan of vindictive litigation, but someone should be judiciously and civilly sodomized (not literally) for this.

  5. macinjosh says:

    Actually, calling someone (like the police) at 8:59 is better for your case than 9:01, dontcha think?

    And what’s this fee? Freedom charge?

  6. krispykrink says:

    Charge a fee to free you from unlawful imprisonment? Screw that, that’s when I take out the fence to escape. Then have you brought up on charges.

  7. That really sucks. But it would have been AWESOME if you had crashed your car through the gate, a la Bruce Willis in just about every movie he’s ever been in.

  8. pdxguy says:

    Regarding the lighthouse in the picture and the article, the lighthouse is from the days of Shurgard Storage. Shurgard was acquired by Public Storage in August 2006. Re Shurgards’ lighhouse: “Our symbol and trademark is the lighthouse: it represents security, light and vision, and leads the way to a safe environment for storing your belongings.”

    As a former Shurgard customer that has survived the acquisition into the Public Storage era, I have to say that Shurgard was much more customer friendly, easier to deal with, and they kept their facilities in better shape, better maintained, and cleaner. Public Storage seems, sadly but not surprisingly, to be all about the money. At the location I store at, it has taken them over six months to replace some outdoor lightbulbs. Considering that a Home Depot is about a half-mile away, it’s inexcusable. When I pointed this out to them when I received my every-other-month notice of a rent increase, I actually had one of their staff admit that they oftentimes raise the rents on their longer-term customers in order to force turnover (and no doubt charge the new renters even more.)

  9. racordes says:

    Just an aside about the police and pizza delivery drivers having codes to all the apartment buildings in your area. They have the codes because the building managers or residents give the codes to them. There is no single magic code.

  10. Pro-Pain says:

    I hope these guys call an attorney. I talked to my attorney this morning and he said they have a case. Small settlement perhaps, but they would get some money…

  11. blackmage439 says:

    Public Storage sucks. The first and [hopefully] last time I used Pubic Storage was a disaster. This is at the location in Darien, IL. The very day I had to move stuff, their gate decided to break down. It wouldn’t open. Luckily, their fence was not secure at all, and I was able to hop the fence and open the side door.

    When I called the next day, they were completely unsympathetic. “Tough shit” and “There’s no way we can let you in after hours” were their excuses. I came back later and moved my stuff out of there.

    So, I bring said stuff to A-1 Storage in Downers Grove, IL. Their grounds are nicer. There’s only one level to the complex. The rates were cheaper. The best part: the owner lives ON SITE, and takes calls after hours. So, in the event of a gate malfunction, you have a good chance of being able to get in.

    F-U, Pubic Storage.

  12. milk says:

    @racordes: I used to live in a complex with a card swiper as well as a keypad. The card reader accepted anything with a magnetic stripe. :/

  13. MrEvil says:

    I don’t think I’d crash through the gate (it’d screw up the paint). I’d just get the tow-rope from my F250 and yank the fucker down. Either that or find some way of cutting the bicycle chain that links the gate to the opener/closer. I don’t think they really lock the gate, the opener-closer just shuts off.

  14. homerjay says:

    These guys should write themselves a screenplay- “Josh and Omar Go to Public Storage”

  15. forgottenpassword says:

    LOL! Working as a night watchman years ago…I locked a few people inside the gates of the LARGE place I was in charge of. ALways found them though & was very apologetic & nothing ever became of any of the incidents. It happens sometimes. Usually when the customers stay past the time the place is supposed to close.

    I cant believe that she had the audacity to charge them extra for her own mistake.

    This may sound wierd, But I always wanted one of those jobs… living on the premesis of one of those storage facilities. Would be great for me as I am single, but I guess they want families so that there is always someone on the property at all times. One thing bad about those jobs is that a lot of those storage places dont last long & go out of business.

  16. newfenoix says:

    Move the stuff out, NOW. Go to the local media and tell them the story…great human interest piece. Show them when you called the police. Watch the security person get fired.

  17. Echomatrix says:

    you should have called the police saying you were stuck and had shortness of breath. Or something like someones dying or something. Im sure the would find a way in real quick

  18. CharlieInSeattle says:

    You would think, that part of her job would be to sweep the grounds and make sure everyone was out prior to closing. I would have called 911, and told them I was being held against my will.

  19. bobpence says:

    “What if our cars were on fire?” Cars, plural?

    I’ve rented space at five or six facilities in two states, and piggybacking entry is always forbidden*. (And if you both used his code, one at a time, prepare to be told their weak-arse software counted that as one entry and one exit. It would probably be a lie.) Had you parked outside while he went in… oh well, they were negligent anyway in not making sure the facility was empty. Definitely no justification to charge for their bad.

    * Pet peeve: Piggyback exiting in a public university visitor parking deck used by some students. It had cost $7 to use the deck all day, less for shorter stays; a sticker for lot parking is cheaper even for one class a week, but the deck was closer and finding a space was faster. To save $7, some students would risk the swing arm damaging their nice, daddy-bought cars, and risk read-ending the person they were piggybacking. It you do it right 70 times, you save the equivalent of one $500 insurance deductible you risk paying every time you do it. Oh, next semester the charge was $8. Thanks, freeloaders.

  20. spundot.com says:

    Similar happened to me several years ago at the public storage in East palo Alto, CA (never go there!). Granted, I will admit we were at the gate about 15 minutes after closing time, but hey, they wouldn’t trap us inside, right? Do department stores lock you inside if you’re in the store when they close? Anyhow, we literally had to beg the manager (who initially didn’t answer his door, then argued with another guy who was trapped and slammed the door on him, then argued with my sister until he finally let us out). That asshole really ticked me off. If all Public Storage locations are run like that…

  21. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    Regarding the fee, you guys did stay an hour and a half late, regardless of whether you wanted to or not or even the fact that you were trapped.

    It’s like accidently walking into the champaign room at the boom boom club. You’re gonna pay.

    /sarcasm

  22. cerbie says:

    Locked in, hhmmm…I probably would have called the fire department, emergency and all…but I would be pretty angry after being on hold so long.

    So, I guess, document, document, document (maybe see if you can get a big itemized phone bill, FI)…it may be easy, it may not, but I wouldn’t pay an extra fee for being kidnapped via negligence.

  23. Bloberry says:

    The same thing happened to me and my friend quite a few years ago – different storage company. There was no one on-site at all. This was in the days before cell phones, so we had to wait until a sympathetic motorist passing by noticed us in our plight. Someone finally called the police for us and they did sent someone out with an extending ladder they folded over the VERY TALL fence for us. We silly females were disinclined to climb the fence ourselves, since it was topped with about a foot of barbed wire. We were able to climb out on the ladder and all was well again.

    The response the OP received from the police was absolutely worthless!

  24. What bothers me about this story, is that the woman didn’t even feel a lick of remorse for locking the gates early. Most (normal) people would be slightly mortified over such an error, and apologize. (Even if they think that the people MIGHT have stayed later than closing) Because… they should be checking the grounds for stray cars still inside the complex before locking. WTH do they get paid for if they can’t even do that??

    Maybe it would benefit them to get a small announcement system “The gates will be locked in 5 minutes” kinda like when a store is about to close.

  25. ianmac47 says:

    Actually, it sounds like Public Storage falsely imprisoned these two. They should file a police report and try to press charges against the manager for locking the gate prematurely, and then file a civil suit against Public Storage.

  26. mike says:

    @verucalise: Agreed. Why was this woman pissed? It’s her job, right?

    Although, I’m not sure if I follow the false imprisonment argument. If they knowningly locked the two in the facility, then I would agree. I think it was an accident. It’s like a store that’s about to close and things no one else is there and closes for the night.

    It happens. Still doesn’t justify the woman’s reaction.

  27. snakeskin33 says:

    I don’t really think a lawsuit is the way to go. I think loud complaining is the way to go, and you’ll get something — including potentially the firing of the on-site manager, which seems in this case like it would be appropriate.

    I also would not recommend the false (“chest pains!”) call to the fire department or 911, because they will be highly unamused by that, and I believe you can get in trouble for that, too.

    It’s unfathomable to me that any place that locks people IN at closing time wouldn’t have some kind of a failsafe in the event somebody gets locked in, like a number that immediately rings to someone who can let you out, with a phone right by the gate. Whether you’re right or wrong, it can’t possibly be that unusual that people don’t get out before closing time. Even if they’re wrong and have overstayed, it’s not an excuse to lock them in without any means of escape.

    I just feel like any company that puts itself in this position is absolutely begging to be sued within an inch of its life in the event someone actually IS injured. I mean, this was mostly an inconvenience that wasted your time, but it didn’t have to turn out as well as it did. They’re very lucky you took the initiative of searching out the manager instead of just concluding you were trapped, spending the night, and getting them in much, much worse trouble.

    Oh, and I think the 9:01 call is perfectly good evidence — if they really hadn’t locked the gate until 9:00, you wouldn’t have already been making a phone call for help at 9:01, just as you say. When you consider all the entering adn re-entering of the code that’s naturally going to follow after you find you’re locked in and before you make that phone call, they obviously locked it early.

  28. @verucalise: I wonder if maybe the woman wasn’t the one who locked the door early (like she’s a facility manager, but there’re different people who’re involved with closing and opening the facility).

  29. macinjosh says:

    @snakeskin33:

    “Oh, and I think the 9:01 call is perfectly good evidence [blah blah blah]

    Ah, good point.

  30. Shark1998 says:

    I have to totally agree with all the posters that Public Storage sucks. I had a similar problem 3 years ago with Public Storage regarding my boat that I stored on the compound.

    Somebody stole my depth/ fish finder and some rods and tackle right out of my covered boat. I informed them that some of my stuff was stolen and they claimed that this was not their responsibility, even though they have 8ft tall fences with barbed wire and 24/7 video camera surveillance monitoring the entire compound. I asked if I could see the video tape to try and solve the problem myself, or give the information to the police if necessary. They refused citing their privacy rules and laws, because it may show other customers and their transactions. They did relent and said that they would contact me once the manager reviews the tapes for the perp. But, ofcourse I never heard back from them.

    I could have went and gotten the police involved. But, I decided I would try my insurance company first since it was only about $400.00 worth of equipment, which they incidentally covered without any issue. How awesome is that for insurance?

    Regardless, I moved my boat to another storage area and refused to pay that months storage costs (a little less than $200.00). They threatened to take the remaining bill to collections, and I threatened to take them to court for violations of their security agreement with their customers. I haven’t heard from them since and my credit looks good.

  31. timmus says:

    I would like to see an eHow article on how to open these gates. I’ve wondered the same thing, like what happens if there’s a power outage. Surely someone knows how those mechanisms work, and whether you can get into them with a screwdriver or a wrench.

  32. oneliketadow says:

    If you think you want to sue and get some cash on this, you need to call a lawyer TODAY and get the security tapes TODAY, before the trailer lady figures out that she should delete them!

  33. krispykrink says:

    @timmus: Simple really, our Apartment complex uses one. It opens/closes via a chain similar to a bicycle chain that goes to a motor. Cut that with bolt cutters, and two more small tabs of metal that slide into a locking position when the gate is closed, and slide open at will. Or… bust out the winch and chains and tear it open of the rails.

  34. mariospants says:

    well, apparently the OPs weren’t creative enough: feining injury or a heart attack would be a good start.

    What I want to know is does this mean you have impunity to break into adjoining lockers and steal shit because nobody is going to come and stop you?

  35. Nighthawke says:

    False imprisonment charges would bring their house of cards down real quick.

    The on-site owners really do need to be more responsible when it comes to ensuring that everyone has left before they button things up. A simple walk around, hell most of them have golf carts to putter around in, so no excuses for being lazy!

  36. SOhp101 says:

    No, claiming that you’re in the middle of having a heart attack when you’re not will get you in big trouble with huge fines.

    False imprisonment only applies when they purposely hold you against your will. Of course, this is arguable in court, but right when she said that you would have to pay a fee for her to let you guys out, it now fits the definition. THAT’S when you should have called the police.

  37. ltlbbynthn says:

    That same thing happened to me, my mom and my boyfriend at our PS a couple weeks ago.
    The manager there told my mom we had to be at our space by 9pm, but the exit gate would still work until 10pm. We went to leave by 9:30, my mom hopped out of the truck and entered the code and nothing happened. Bf and I were staring at a sign that said the gate closed at 9, and starting to freak out a bit.
    My mom entered the code a few more times, and we wandered around the property trying to find a way to unscrew the gate or shut off the power (always a good idea :-P). We were able to get out, but not the truck, which belonged to my boyfriend’s dad.
    Mom also got on the phone with PS, who spoke as if they could help us get out. Meanwhile I tried entering the code, and the gate swung open. Potential inconvenience averted!

  38. Japheaux says:

    I wonder how long the manager could tolerate the two ‘youts’ blowing their car horns while awaiting pardon. At some point someone, somewhere, would get pissed and get the balling rolling to get them out. Kind of like Patrick Swayze singing ‘Henry the 8th’ in the movie Ghost. One just keeps on blasting the horn. I think the best thing to do would have been to call the local TV station for a news story—send the live cameras down there for an exclusive.

  39. dmuth says:

    @Japheaux: I agree. If neither the manager nor the police are going to do anything, it is definitely time to get the press involved. They would be all over something like this.

  40. dragonfire1481 says:

    Although this company sucks, the low wage customer service phone reps probably had absolutely no way to know someone was on premises when you called.

    They likely only knew the most basic information about the company and how to process credits and payments.

  41. haoshufu says:

    Once the facility manager refused to open the gate, should have called the PD that they were being held in the complex against their will (taken hostage, imprisonment or something similar). Once you make it sound like a crime, they have to take action.

  42. ldavis480 says:

    Well, this is just me, but if someone locked me into a place like that I’d do whatever I could to utterly destroy the gate locking me in. I wouldn’t care if I had to smash concrete blocks with a sledgehammer or crash through the fence with a bulldozer, I’d find a way out.

  43. crowquill says:

    I had pretty much the exact same thing happen to me. The biggest difference was that I was in the process of moving and driving a rented u-haul. I was making one last run to storage that was to be followed by one last run to the new house. Nobody lived on site at that one and no-one was ever apologetic for it either. I parked the truck in a seemingly out-of-the-way place and came back the next morning to hear complaints that I’d blocked someone’s boat (ours had a man-door next to the gate). I told them they shouldn’t lock the gates at 10 minutes before closing.

    A couple months later I ran over there and wasn’t wearing a watch. I went to leave at 8 minutes before close to find I couldn’t get out. I immediately called the 800-number and took down the name of the rep I talked to and made them verify the time. I never tested it again, but I’m guessing it’s still screwed up.

    One comment I did hear was about my watch being slow. All of my clocks are set to official US time via http://www.time.gov

  44. My friend…. I think he is diabetic….. he is slurring his words and he looks real pale.

    Remember those words the next time you want a police/fire response. I guarantee the big arse fire truck with the ramming bumper can drive right through the front gate if the need arose.

  45. Orv says:

    Even if they had a code, I don’t think the police can legally open a locked gate on private property unless there’s some kind of emergency.

  46. Cattivella says:

    This happened to my dad and my boss (dad was helping him out with shelving). It was not a PS. They went to leave on time and discovered that the gate wouldn’t open. They called the emergency number posted, but the woman who answered gave them the runaround for a good 20 minutes, saying that she would not be able to open the gate and that they would just have to hop the fence and leave their cars there. Finally, upon threat from my dad that he would disable the gate (he’s a contractor and had his truck full of tools with him), she gave them the “magic code” that would open the gate after hours. They threatened an extra fee for being there after hours, but never put one on the bill.

  47. kc2idf says:

    It could be invaluable information if it becomes necessary to dispute the charges.

    To hell with disputing charges . . . how about pressing charges?

  48. RChris173 says:

    I find this story pretty interesting and I find the comments that everyone left very interesting. I don’t know if it is just because were posting on the Internet, we tend to reveal things that we might do, but in reality wont do…

    We can’t place ourselves in these situations, but we can imagine and it’s quite different in perception.

    I find it kinda shitty that they would knowingly create a problem by leaving them trapped even after calling various numbers and speaking with different people at the company and local emergency services.

  49. mythago says:

    “So, Police Officer, you’re saying that we’re inside these gates with full access to ALL the storage cubicles, and the police can’t do a thing to get at us? Just checking.”

  50. crankymediaguy says:

    They should have called one of the local TV stations and asked to speak to the news department. Then you explain that you are locked in the Public Storage lot and the police refuse to help you. Hilarity ensues.

  51. cerbie says:

    @Corporate-Shill: seriously, why fake it? If you aren’t just let out, use such a call, no illness, as leverage for the moment. If no one is there, use such a call to actually get someone there who can get you out. If that doesn’t work, let the company know you will do what it takes to leave (like Cattivella’s dad).

    Faking illness to get help is wrong, and I would hope illegal in many states.

  52. AgentTuttle says:

    I got locked in a trailer once at an RV sales lot. The wind blew the door shut and the door lever broke. I had to climb out the emergency window to be found by the manager who was looking for me at closing time.

    He didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with the door mechanism. I wasn’t going to be called a liar and pointed out that I didn’t enjoy the trip through the window. When he saw the door handle, he said “oh.” Yeah, oh, you’re the asshole, not me.

  53. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    You don’t have to fake a medical emergency, shortness of breath and all could be very well expected and even expected if you find yourselves locked in. You could have calmed down by the time they arrive…

    BUT, most EMS services will send you a very large bill ($200-$500) for the services even if you decline transport.

  54. reznicek111 says:

    Had something similar happen last winter at a cemetery in Chicago. Visiting hours were clearly posted at being until 5:00pm, but the caretakers on duty apparently decided to leave about 30 minutes early and locked all the gates. There were four other vehicles with visitors locked inside along with us, and none of the walls were climb-able (either too high in some sections, or topped with razor wire).

    The cemetery’s office number rang to an answering machine several times, so we ended up calling 911. Apparently, according to the police this cemetery has a reputation for having caretakers close up shop early without driving through the perimeter checking for visitors who might be locked inside. The police were able to reach an emergency contact, who summoned a manager that could unlock the gate and let us out. The whole ordeal took about 45 minutes but it made for a pretty stressful Friday night.