Friday, March 4, 2016

Storage Owners Need to take Action! Florida Business Lobby Fights Against Self Storage Operators in the Florida Legislature

Self storage is big business. According to the national Self Storage Association, the self storage industry now generates more revenue than Hollywood. Self storage is one of the fastest growing sectors of commercial real estate and new players are entering the market daily. While prices per square foot and cap rates seem to be what everyone is talking about these days, there are much more important issues unfolding behind the scenes. The Florida Self Storage Association, along with the national Self Storage Association and a team of lobbyists, are currently fighting for changes to the Self Storage Facility Act in the State Legislature.

The FSSA was successful in getting major changes to the self storage lien laws in 2012, including eliminating the very expensive need to send notices via certified mail. One aspect of the 2012 bill, which they were not successful in passing, was to eliminate the requirement to run legal advertisements in a newspaper of general circulation. They have since regrouped with their lobbyists and are fighting for this again in the 2016 legislative session.

There are approximately 3,200 self storage facilities in Florida and each of them is required to run a legal advertisement every time they have a lien sale. The advertisements, which are priced by the word, are costly for storage operators, but legally required advertisements are a great source of revenue for newspapers.  In fact, this source of revenue may be one of the only that newspapers can still rely on.  Tim Dietz, CEO of the Self Storage Association, said “only statutorily required legal ads create a constant source of revenue for newspapers.” 

Florida is not the only state in which newspaper and press associations have opposed changes like these to state statutes. However, the newspaper lobby has stepped up their game in Florida. They have joined forces with Florida business lobbyists, the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF). The AIF, also known as the “voice of Florida business,” is a group of lobbyists originally formed in 1920 to fight against unions. They have successfully been lobbying the Florida Legislature for a very long time. In fact, their annual “pre-session party” for lawmakers has been a hot ticket in Tallahassee for 30 years. The Florida Trend says “AIF is one of the most influential business groups in the state.” 




According to their website, AIF opposes the proposed legislation because it intends to derail Florida’s broad public notice system. In an article in the Tampa Tribune, AIF lobbyist Brewster Bevis said that there are businesses across the state that rent storage units and “their property would be auctioned off with notice that is virtually unnoticed” if the bill passes in the House and the Senate. There is a lot of debate in the self storage industry about the real purpose of the legal advertisement.  Is it to notify tenants of pending sale or to attract bidders to lien sales? In an article for the Storage Facilitator, attorney Jeffrey Greenberger, who specializes in self storage, said “public notices in newspapers might have been a good way to attract bidders to storage auctions “back in the day,” but they’ve never resolved the issue of alerting tenants whose rent is overdue and whose belongings are set to be auctioned.” This begs the question, is the legal advertisement even necessary?

Bevis says “the proposed legislation will allow a self storage facility to advertise on any publicly accessible website in lieu of the well-recognized use of traditional public notice. “ His translation to laymen’s terms is “this method would equate to finding a needle in a haystack.” He goes on to say “in 2012, Florida wisely passed” legislation requiring Florida’s newspapers to publish notices on publicnotices.com, which is owned by the Florida Press Association.  The Florida House of Representatives has since amended the 2016 self storage bill to say that all advertisements must be placed on a website controlled by the Office of the State Court Administrators. Yet, the AIF continues to oppose the bill in the Senate. It seems that Bevis thinks it is “wise” to publish legal notices on a website controlled by the Florida Press Association, but it would be harmful for self storage operators to publish legal notices on a website controlled by the Office of the State Court Administrators. 

The proposed bills are currently moving through the legislature. In the Florida House of Representatives, HB559 passed a committee vote 15-3 and is expected to go to vote on the house floor. The Senate Bill, SB720, was supposed to be brought back before the committee sometime this week.

If storage operators were able to post their legal advertisements on a website rather than in print newspapers, they would save thousands of dollars per year. Additionally, the high cost of this advertising is passed directly back to the consumer. Thus, the proposed bill would benefit not only storage owners, but also storage customers.  According to the Self Storage Association, almost 10% off all American homes rent self storage units. Lowering the cost of the legal advertisement would clearly have far reaching benefits for Florida and the rest of the United States. 

Self storage facilities contribute vast amounts of money to their communities in property taxes. According to the SSA Fact Sheet, self storage facilities pay $3.25 billion in property taxes to local jurisdictions each year. Owners of these facilities have a right to reach out to their legislators for change. They are the constituency that will be affected by the outcome of the bill. At a November 2015 meeting of the FSSA Board of Trustees, Tim Dietz and SSA Director of Government Affairs Marcus Dunn, said that “the most important element to their success in Florida is getting owners of storage facilities involved.” 

Owners can find out who their Florida legislators are by using the following links, http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx and https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/find. If you would like to get involved in the lobbying efforts in Tallahassee, contact the Florida Self Storage Association for more information. 

Sources:
1. http://www.selfstorage.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=fJYAow6_AU0%3D&portalid=0 
2. http://blog.selfstorage.com/storage-news/new-mexico-press-association-opposes-public-notices-5052
3. http://www.floridatrend.com/article/1910/associated-industries-of-florida-is-a-business-heavyweight
4. Bevis, Brewster. 2016, January 13. Don’t Degrade Transparency Provided Through Public Notices. Tampa Tribune.

About the Author - Cheli Rosa - Managing Partner, Auctioneer, Company Administrator, Social Media Manager, Mom, Kite Flyer, Pinterest Addict and Amateur Scrapbooker.




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