ConsumerWatch: Insurance Issues At Public Storage

SAN JOSE (CBS 5) — Thousands use Public Storage to store their belongings. But some say when there’s a break-in, even with the insurance that Public Storage recommends, you’re left holding the bag.

Ana Leon thought her things would be safe at a Public Storage location on Maybury Road in San Jose. Then one day she came to check.

“There was only about half the stuff or less,” Leon said. Someone had broken in. “It was about $12,000 worth of items that were gone”

Lucky for Leon she had insurance. And it was a Public Storage employee who convinced her to buy that policy, from a company called Willis. “It sounded like if your things are stolen, we’re going to cover you,” Leon said.

Leon filed a claim, but right away, there were problems. A Willis representative called Leon to leave this message: “I spoke with Public Storage and their policy does require some sort of proof of forced entry.”

She sent them the lock from her storage unit. But the Willis rep called Leon back and said, “The lock did not show it was forcibly opened. It looks like it was just a defective lock.”

Even though a police report clearly said an “unknown suspect forced open the master lock,” Willis claimed it was not broken. And, the Willis rep called again to say: “Unfortunately your claim will not be accepted.”

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Leon. “I told them mail it back to me so I can have a professional check the lock.” But she said Willis refused to give it back.

A month later, police found some of her stolen items in a nearby locker. “The police said they were following a group of about ten people that had been doing this throughout Public Storages and they just rent the storage for a month,” said Leon.

But Willis continued to insist there was no proof of burglary. “I still get upset just thinking about it. There’s all this evidence, they found some of the stolen things,” Leon said.

As it turns out, Leon is not alone. There are lots of complaints to the better Business Bureau about insurance issues at Public Storage.

So why are seemingly obvious burglary claims being denied? The answer may be in a class action lawsuit. It alleges that back in 2006 Public Storage set up a group of front insurance companies under various names. But it was actually Public Storage collecting premiums, denying claims and profiting at both ends.

Willis started working with Public Storage after the lawsuit was filed, and is not named in the suit.
But Leon suspects Public Storage is also controlling how Willis responds to claims, because employees push their insurance so hard.

CBS 5 ConsumerWatch experienced the same thing, when we went undercover at another Public Storage.

“Insurance is required,” the employee told us. We showed our video to Jerry Whitfield with the California Insurance Commissioner’s office, who oversees insurance companies. “When you in fact solicit the purchase of insurance you are doing things that only licensed agents can do,” Whitfield said after looking at the video.

Public Storage isn’t licensed to sell insurance or even discuss it. But they did in our undercover video, explaining to us how deductibles work and much more.

“If they are going to provide the type of information they provided, the storage facility should have been licensed. And these employees should have been trained under the requirements of our licensing laws,” said Whitfield.

Public Storage turned down CBS 5’s request for an on-camera interview, saying only in a statement that it “cares about the safety of its customers and the security of their belongings,” and that Willis is “an independent insurance provider.”

As for Willis, the company told CBS 5 it is still investigating Leon’s case. But a few days after we contacted them, and six months after denying her claim, Leon says Willis called to tell her it was approved.

“I think people need to know about it, people need to stop paying insurance if they don’t know what they are paying for,” said Leon.

CBS 5 ConsumerWatch searched police records and found 22 break-ins at just this one Public Storage facility in the past two years.

(© CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • John peard

    I also was burglarized at my public storage space in Campbell. Insurance refused my claim. I took them to small claims court and was awarded a settlement. Now I’m trying to collect it.

    • vchok

      THey told me when i have rented that i am required to take the insurance or i would need to bring in my home owners policy as you must have insurance for the unit. I have rented across the bay area for my company and they all tell me i must get the insurance.

  • Tiffany Stamps

    As a former employee at Public Storage, our district managers told us we were not allowed to rent units unless the person purchased the insurance. What most people don’t realize is that an older property (like the one featured in the video) isn’t as secure as the company would like you to think it is. Lock checks are supposed to be done twice a day minimum, but that doesn’t always get done. During a lock check the only way for an employee to see if a unit had been broken into was for the lock to be missing or hanging off the door. Good recomendation if you HAVE to get a storage unit anywhere, disc lock… nearly impossible to cut since you have to drill out the center. It’s crazy to think that talking to customers about insurance was illegal. I’d like to see what the district managers are going to say now that it’s all over the news.

    • Danielle

      I think the story was more of how the Insurance Company had some shady policies and the thing PS should take from this is reconsidering who they offer insurance through. From one manager to another. Hope PS doesn’t take too much s*** for this but the insurance company should be re-evaluated.

      • Cody Fawcett

        but the insurance company is PS that is the issue.

    • Robert Bagley

      i to was an employ of public storage i ran a facility in Pacheco for 5 years and in all the five years there were many claims that tenants told me about and i think maybe one was approved, and we had to keep a cretin percentage of insurance penetration at least 80%

      • concerned customer

        Wow alot of disgruntled ex employees I see here. Hmm I wonder how many of u were fired just like Robert bagley for not doing his job. I bet alot of you were.

      • G

        I was with PS for 2 years in Texas & in that time I had to deal with a total of 35 units being broken into, several at a time on different days as well as the odd one or 2 of all the clams that I was called about from Willis Only 1 was not paid, the guy did not lock his 24 hour unit right. Oh Well… as for the ins. being PUSHED by the PS property personal YA we were told by our bosses that we had to & when I left the company that was one of the reasons I did along with the robotic way they try to get there employees to deal with customers, Zero personal interaction. Get them in a unit take their money & get them gone ,on to the next.

    • abby

      Hi Tiffany! Can you give me a call? I am the producer that worked on this story and I would love to talk to you. 415=765-8972
      Thanks for the feedback!

      • ERWIN BOCK


      • An

        Same problem here…someone broke into my Vallejo unit right before Xmas and I’ve been dealing with fraudulent activity on my accounts since then. I now live in NY but my stprage is in Vallejo CA. Whats the point of insurance if your stuff is gone and you didnt take it? Is it possible for the News to bring it up to the public eye again? i really want to bring itheroblem up on a national level. I really want to get this story viral on the Internet to warn others and show them the scam for PS. Who’s with me?

      • Luis Castro

        My name is Luis Castro (general Contractor) and just had my unit broken into 2 days ago!! lost at least $15,000 worth of tools and am just begining the process of filing a claim with the same company (Willis) after i notticed my unit was broken into and called the police to get a report, later that day management found 7 other units that had been broken into.! police was nice enough to send a fingerprint expert. unfortunately he found nothing, because burglars seemed to have used gloves. Absolutely everything about this seems like an inside job and i don’t know weather I should seek taking legal action. I have four boys and a wife who depend on me and i depend 100% on my tools. I’ts only been two days and i have already begun to suffer from this loss. I’ve had to let go of 2 jobs and don’t know how i’ll be able to make it. They stole much more than my belongings! they have stolen my livelyhood. I’m barely starting out in the business and work was just begining to pick up. I can’t beleive that with multiple security camera’s and codes it’s taken them so long to figure out who it could have been. The storage unit is located on 12510 Raymer street, North Hollywood, CA, 91605. I’m keeping in close contact with District Manager Kevin Boucher and hope that PS will admit some sort of neglagence on behalf of Management, and offer some sort of reasonable compensation. I’m more than willing to provide any additional information about this occurance and can be reached via e-mail at any time. Any guidance and input on this situation is greatly appreciated to whom this may concern. Thanks Luis-

    • Anonymous

      I too was burglarized last week. The woman at this facility called me on Thursday to say that “when you were here the other day, you left your lock open” I was there Monday and I am 110% sure I double checked the lock because I wasnt sure I got the bolt in fully. She could not have been more rude about the entire thing. And I had the disc lock that you can’t use bolt cutters on, they picked the lock. It was just open. I can’t remove the key unless the lock is in a fully locked position. And she refused to give me any other information. Not how it was found, not how many others were hit as well, nothing. And the police are “too busy” the officer said I could “thank your congressmen and the mayor for that.” So the items that were stolen are gone, I have no recourse and most of it will be thrown away because it is not of any value to someone other than me. I just wish to have the things back. What other actions can I take to get items back?



  • Liam

    This is an industry wide issue. When I rented a unit at storage1, I also was told that I must purchase insurance through them. Later when I realized my renters insurance would cover any theft, I asked to cancel my policy. I was told I was not cancelable unless I moved out.
    I guess its time to push the issue and send a certified letter rerequesting cancelation. If they are not licensed to sell insurance in the first place, and still refuse, I will probably try my luck in small claims court.
    (After all, dealing with these guys is about as much fun as having your wisdom teeth pulled). At least that’s my opinion of the way I have been treated so far.

    “Love you”

  • m.edwards

    for years I had an storage unit at another storage company and was treated well. I purchased my own lock and was told about the insurance available and was referred to a brochure. Security cameras were everywhere and there were workers on the grounds 24/7. They kept the place clean to prevent rodents. But when I had to get an extra storage space during a move I went Public Storage and was requied to buy their lock which could only be used on their units. I still have that lock and key. I was also required to purchase their insurance. It was not an option and was added to my monthly cost. There werent too many security cameras and only a few workers.After seeing this story I am so glad that my things were only in there for two months.

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  • Ex Public Storage Manager

    What a lot of people dont realize is that the property managers of Public Storage facilities are being coerced by upper management to sell the insurance and the locks. Property Managers have monthly targets to achieve or they get reprimanded and there jobs put on the line if they dont achieve at least 95% lock and insurance sales with each rental. This in turn puts great pressure on the property manager to sell the insurance and the lock with each rental. But the fact remains that you dont have to buy the lock or the insurance from Public Storage..the reason why you are being told this from the Property Manager is because he is in fear of losing his job due to the threats and pressure applied from the District and Regional Managers at each Regional Office, who in turn line their pockets with the profits that are made from the Insurance and lock sales. By the way..Willis Insurance is now owned by Public Storage. Public Storage has so many different Holding Company names it would be hard to find out for sure. But when you do rent a u nit from PS..please have a little sympathy for the Property Manager ..they are the ones being forced to try and sell the Insurance and the locks or run the risk of losing their jobs.

    • abby

      Hi there: I am the producer who worked on this report and I would love to talk to you. Could you give me a call at your earliest convenience? 415-765-8972

    • Cody Fawcett

      I can confirm what “Ex Public Storage Manager” has said. when my wife and i used to work for this company, we were threatened nearly every day.

      they threatened my wife with termination if i ever left to get a better job. this kept us in fear of being PS slaves for a long time. i made 7.50 an hour and my wife made 8.40 an hour. if you worked any overtime the district manager would remove it from your timecard before he approved it.

      during the district meetings they would threaten everyone with “i could replace you all tomorrow if i wanted to.” they would tell us that we had to tell the customer the insurance and lock were mandatory and must be purchased from us.

      our DM even tried to get us to tell the customer we were only leasing locks, and to sell them after they were returned. but change our inventory to reflect a sale. PS does own Willis and has for virtually ever through one of there shell companies.

      at my wifes property, they fired her for telling the regional manager to finally fix the place and its deficiencies. .automatic sliding doors did not work for well over a year, cameras were non op, and the security/gate system was not working either. cameras hadn’t worked in 4 years, security doors and unit alarms in over 3 years.

      the DM tried/presured his employees to join a MLM scheme of quikstar/amway and even sold the stuff to customers as well, buy this get a discount on rent etc…

      i eventually found a company that would take a chance on my tech skills and would pay enough if they followed through on the threat of terminating my wife if i left. i did leave, and about 1 year later and 6 months into my wife’s pregnancy they fired her without cause and saying the entire time we will fight your unemployment as well.

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  • Ex Public Storage Manager

    A Cody Fawcett mentioned, threats were an ongoing thing. Somebody in the upper echelons were getting there pockets lined with massive bonuses for the Insurance sales. Because most of the threats came from Regional Office. As far as i used to remember and Insurance agent gets a commission for the sale of an Insurance policy, and if that is still true and you can, well, I can tell you it isn’t the Property Managers that are getting any commission. All the Property Manager gets is a threat and told that they aren’t trying hard enough to sell the Insurance. I myself have never told a potential renter of a unit that the Insurance is mandatory. I believed that it was illegal and unjust as the Insurance Policy in question doesn’t cover very much. If a renter was interested in the Insurance I would always advise them to read the policy very carefully, of which by the way isn’t handed to them until they sign up for the Insurance…what is written in the brochure which is handed to the renter is not as informative as the policy itself. I have seen this company change from a company that cared for its employees and customers to a company that only cares about lining its own pockets. Over the last 6 years they have taken a lot of benefits and bonuses away from its employees. I am just glad that I was able to get out of the company and move on. Their practices are hard for an honest person to swallow.

  • No relief

    Took long enough for someone to make a stink.

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  • Lucia

    My unit in Santa Rosa, Ca., was burglarized between Nov 2008 and May 2009. Was mostly collectables and my deceased mothers jewelry. In my case it was an inside job, (even the police said it) since their lock was on my unit, I did not even know that. We were told that the place had approx. 4 management changes in approx 6 months since Nov. 2008. I was paying for Insurance, but since I missed one payment in Nov. they cancelled the insurance, cut my lock off, put it in my unit and put their lock on my unit. I was not told any of this when I went to catch up on my payment in Dec 2008. My daughter went to make a payment and get something out of the unit in May 2009, and that’s when we found out what had happened. I found out the Insurance had been cancelled when I calked the Company to file a claim. I still have all the paperwork. You cant trust even their employeees

  • Danielle

    I am a ex employee of ps as well and not only do they push you to sell there merchandise/ ins but my dm was unfair. my mom had a medical condition, and my dm was notified months before so that I could have thoses days off, but instead he let me go, I worked in the Oakland area He also made travel farther out of my livin area statin that i needed to be there to increase insurance and lock penetration for the property. ins penetration needed to be at or above 80% as well as locks. and truly the only ones who benefit from these sales are district and regional mangers come bonus time. not employees.

  • Dan and Linda Mellish

    We worked for PS for eleven years. During that time we were constantly pressured to meet or exceed INsurance /lock goals or face write ups and possible Termination. Bonus were constantly reduced when we met or exceeded our sales quotas. Pay is low and now managers are required to pay for storage that was free to them as a benefit. PS is a cold and heartless company.

  • Mark

    When I put my Oakland condo on the market in 2006, I put nearly all my possessions into a storage unit at Public Storage in Emeryville. I was required either to show proof of insurance or to purchase insurance through Public Storage. I also was required to purchase a Public Service-approved lock that was required to have a Public Storage sticker on both sides of the lock; otherwise the lock would be cut and removed. Since I did not know whether I was insured through my homeowner insurance policy, I purchased the insurance. I also purchased a lock, and the requisite stickers were affixed. I was given a personal code to key in when I entered and exited the premises.

    I checked my unit just before Christmas 2006. When I checked back shortly after Christmas, there was a new lock on the door, so I ran down to the manager’s office to see what had happened. He cut the lock and we opened the door to an empty unit. The manager told me that there had been a dozen similar incidents that week. I pointed out at least three other units close by that had new locks with the Public Storage sticker on only one side, not both. The manager became angry that he would have to deal with more renters with burgled units. I followed him as he stormed back to the office so I could cancel my agreement. The police would only take a report, and the insurance company (Discover Property & Casualty Ins. Co.) was initially unresponsive. A couple weeks later I got a call from Emeryville Police that discarded property had been found in a vacant unit. When I visited Public Storage, I had to be very aggressive to be allowed to sift through the debris (none of my property was ever recovered). After repeated communication with the insurance company, it finally paid the claim, minus a $100 deductible. However, because the loss was due to burglary, I could recover only 50 percent.

    I am certain that my property was still on the premises. The window of time for the burglaries appeared to be December 24 & 25, 2006. Since all tenants had identifiable codes for entry, I do not understand why no investigation took place.

    To add insult to injury, Public Storage took me to collection for January’s rent because the manager had never processed my paperwork. I am still traumatized from the whole episode.

  • Sean

    Wow! I’m moving and was actually about to head to public storage to rent a unit today until I saw this. The $1 first month special was tempting but the unethical business practices have me looking elsewhere.

    Can anyone recommend a good insurance company that handles storage units specifically? I’m traveling and couch-surfing for a bit so I don’t really have a physical dwelling for renters insurance.

  • brian

    We are former employees of PS as well. We worked for them for nearly 12 years. What the other former employees are saying, is true. We were forced to sell customers the insurance by telling them it was required. I do know of other employees who have told customers that if they don’t take our policy, they have to bring in a copy of their homeowner’s. This was not something the company required us to say, but when you are being threatened to achieve a certain goal or face write-up or termination, I guess one would feel desperate to say whatever it took.
    We never had a problem achieving our goals so we never really felt threatened along that line.
    Training new hires, we did have to teach them the company’s expectations, along with preparing them for customer questions, as well as how to overcome customers’ objections. When I was in training there was a video we had to watch called “The Big Orange.” At one part in the video, it says, “If it appears that the customer is stupid, it’s because they are.” I kid you not. The more long term employees will remember that.
    Throughout my time there, I did have a couple of tenants that had to make claims. What is not told to the manager or the customer, is that the insurance company will call the manager to verify the break-in, how many units, the method of entry to the facility, etc. If something is amiss, you can guarantee there will not be a settlement. Sure there were some bogus claims. But, I guess in order to prevent that, I had one of the insurance reps actually tell me that the customer would have to provide receipts of where they purchased items they were claiming.
    When we first started at PS, it was a great company to work for. Wayne Hughes was out in the field back then. There were annual Christmas parties, annual picnics, a great bonus program, across the board pay raises…just a very family oriented company that anyone would have been happy and proud to work for.
    All of that went away. When things became too much, and we noticed that certain policies were being violated by upper management, we turned everything over to their compliance Hotline that is supposed to investigate such activity. We never had any response from them. Even after we attempted follow up with the hotline more than 5 times. That is when we knew it was time to leave. They no longer cared about following up on claims that a long term employee was making. To make the situation worse is that we were not the only ones in our district that called in with the same issues. Noone ever heard anything back from anyone regarding it. When we left, our quality of life and health became much better. We went to work for a smaller storage company, and after what PS turned into in the last 1 year we were there, I am glad we did.

  • Paul D

    See if Wayne Hughes or one of his companies that he controls does not own the Insurance company. I believe that he does own them. He is having the publically owned REIT sell his product for his profit.

  • Cody Fawcett

    Any information on when the follow up stories will be?

    • ms. Leon

      tonight at 11pm

  • Jon Blade

    I had a classic motorcycle stolen from PS in Fremont, and was notified of the break in the next morning. I had encountered a suspicious couple chatting me up about nothing the previous day, so I filed a police report and asked to view the surveillance video so that I could identify them for the police to question. The refused, saying a warrant would be required just to view the video. My insurance claim was denied because “vehicles are not covered”.

    I did recover my motorcycle several months later when someone tried to get title for it by lein sale and I was notified by DMV. Police just recovered it for me, no charges to the guy who had it.

  • Laura

    I rented from PS in San Francisco for 1 year and had 75% of my stuff stolen – if the stuff was in a box with handles it went. This included knitting needles and my kids’ Christmas ornaments. Willis rejected the claim because, though the locks had been CUT OFF and left behind, the door to the unit was unaffected. Bah, humbug.

  • Ms. Leon

    FYI. I’m Ms. Leon. I just want to give you all an update. They accepted my claim after Abby from the news contacted them. I will be reimbursed for what I was covered for. I wanted to do this and I contacted the news because this has to stop. P.S. continued doing this because no one ever spoke up and I’m a social worker and felt like people need to have their voices being heard. I also knew I was not the first or the last. I contacted an attorney and she would not help me.

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  • Lucia

    Wow..I cannot believe what a horrible Storage Company PS is…Was I the only one whom police said was an inside Robbery?

    • Francisco E

      I was burglarized TWICE at the Public Storage on Salmar Avenue in Campbell. I Moved in on Oct. 1. I went to unit on Oct. 30 to drop off some stuff and found unit had been broken into. I informed Curtis who was of no help and totally unsympathetic. I spoke with him again the next day and told him door was damaged, which he had not even bothered to check. He said he would have door fixed. I also reported burglary and damage to door via Public Storage website. On Nov. 13 I returned to unit to pick up some boxes and found door had NOT been repaired and unit had been broken into yet AGAIN.

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