With skyrocketing rent in certain parts of the country, sometimes it can be difficult to find an apartment you can afford. When you need a place to live but don’t have the dough, it can force you to get creative. I’ve been very fortunate in my life to never find myself in such a desperate situation. If I had, however, I don’t know that I would have thought of living inside a storage unit – until I spoke with a family friend who works at a self-storage place here in town and she told me that’s something they really have to look out for.
A couple days ago, a post from a user named 007craft went viral on Reddit, documenting how he lived in a storage unit in Vancouver (highest rent in Canada!) for two months and managed to make it surprisingly comfortable, with a double bed, loveseat, large TV with surround sound, kitchen with running water and multiple cooking appliances and more.
The video starts out with a piece of sage advice: “If you’re going to live in a storage unit, you need to be as invisible as possible. You basically need to be a ghost. If anybody finds out you’re here, that’s when you start running into trouble.” I’ll let the video take it from there:
Why do you need to be invisible? Because if you get caught, you’ll be evicted. Storage units are not particularly safe for human habitation, and it’s generally illegal to live in one. Even if not expressly forbidden by the local law, pretty much all self-storage companies have a section of the contract you sign that says you will not live there – so by doing so, you’re violating the conditions of your contract and you’ll be kicked out.
Let’s not forget the fire risk that someone living in a storage unit poses. Redditor /u/RobertTheSpruce had an excellent explanation of the challenges a fire in a storage warehouse would cause if someone was living there. I’m just going to copy and paste it here because it’s worth reading. (For those of you not familiar, “OP” stands for “Original Poster.” In this case, it’s the guy who made and shared the video)
Prevention wise, it might be slightly better of course. A home is laden with potential fire starting items, from electrical, to idiot humans, candles, animals etc, but the person who lives in that home controls all of those risks to a certain extent. If you live in a storage unit, you do not. You have no idea what’s in each of the rooms. You don’t control the unit filled with wooden lacquered furniture, you don’t control the meth lab down the hall, and you don’t control the unit full of dirt bikes and fuel.
It looks like a concrete and steel building, yeah. That’s a worry. It’s probably a cheap as possible constructed portal frame warehouse style building. (By the by, but they are designed to collapse inwards to prevent damaging neighbouring buildings in the event of collapse). Thin steel corrugated walls between compartment that radiated heat from fire will warp fairly rapidly. Smoke will pass through the gaps in the walls easily, and smoke is also flammable, meaning that the romms are filling up with flammable material. Steel melts at 1300°C and loses two thirds of it’s strength at 600°C, for context, a candle burns at about 1000°C. It almost certainly has a fire alarm system, but are the detectors in each individual unit, or in hallways? I would suggest that they are not in each unit or OPs cooking antics could cause issue.
But that’s mainly just prevention. Fire safety people will not be too concerned with likelihood of fire, they will be concerned with impact of fire. Fire is pretty much always kindof unlikely in specific places, hence why every building doesn’t burn down every week. Let’s assume that a unit, not necessarily OPs former unit caught fire, which happens relatively frequently.
If he’s awake, it’s like a regular warehouse. Alarm goes off. He vacates. That’s how it’s supposed to work, but what if he’s asleep? Sleeping risk changes everything.
Consider your home. You’re in the bedroom, asleep. You are a sensible and responsible adult, right? So you have a smoke alarm either in the hallway immediately outside your bedroom door or in your bedroom. That is close to you, so very loud so it wakes you. I doubt that a storage unit has sounders either in the individual units or even just outside all the units, as they don’t expect sleepers. But anyway, you’re awoken to a fire, whereas unitboy potentially isn’t. Okay, so now you need to escape. What you got in your bedroom, a door and a window. No one self defenestrates at a drop of a hat, so you take the door. You open it, holy shit, there’s smoke in the hallway! Some shit is on fire, yo! You cough a bit, but because you’re an intelligent human being you know that 2-3 lungfuls of smoke and you’re unconsious, so you close that door and stay in your room. Perhaps unit guy is at the same stage as you are at this point if they are awake. So what now? Plan B, that window. Ground floor? Bang, you’re safe. First floor? Bit of a jump, maybe a broken ankle if you’re a mong? Still safe. Second floor? Okay, dicey, but batman says you wouldn’t die. Maybe some severe injuries on falling. Any higher? Luckily you got a phone handy, because it’s your home! You phone the fire department and tell them your address and along they come with their cool ladders and shit and some sexy bronzed skinned hero lifts you over their shoulder and carries you down. You’re safe. You better tip that motherfucker well. In homes and sleeping risks you should have multiple exits, at least 2 at all times. Front door, back door, window, and when worst comes to worst, the doors in homes, even the shitty wooden ones can slow fire for up to 30 minutes without being fire doors. More than enough time for the underpaid firefighters to rescue you.
Consider the same scenario in this storage unit. OP is woken up (if he actually gets woken up) and opens the door to a wall of smoke. What are his options? There’s no back up plan. There’s no safety procedures, it’s sit in your storage unit and pray. No fire department is going to come to a storage unit and assume that people are sleeping there. They can’t go around cutting the locks off all the doors to check every one when there’s a fire to try and deal with, and they thanks to OP, they’ll potentially cut the locks off the door and still be blocked thanks to the bolt on the inside too! Thanks OP!
I’ve only touched the surface of some of the many problems for both the ‘occupant’ of the unit and firefighters.
Why would anyone want to live in a storage unit, anyway? It’s all about saving money. According to Global News, the average rent in Vancouver (2 1/2 years ago, at least – so it may be more now) is about $1,274/month. When you consider this guy was paying just $205/month (including insurance), it starts to make a little more sense.
Another question: How can he not afford rent, and yet he’s got a storage unit full of furniture and appliances and an awesome entertainment system with surround sound? The answer to that lies in the video description. As it turns out, this guy had just returned from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (a 2,650-mile hike that usually takes around 5 months). In order to do the hike, he quit his job and gave up his apartment. When he returned, he tried living out of his car for a while until he could get an apartment. The car is featured below (he camperized a Honda Civic), but even with it he still had to make regular visits to his storage unit – which was originally smaller than this one. Eventually he found a bigger unit, moved his stuff in, and decided to build it into an apartment. I get the impression this guy likes building stuff for cheap just for the hell of it – and he also seems to be pretty good at it. At the end of the video, he mentions he plans to build a rock climbing gym in his new apartment.
He says staff knew about him using power, and charged him an extra $5/month for it, so he didn’t have to keep unplugging his extension cord. He used the bathroom inside the storage facility, and had a gym membership and would shower there. He says he had 24-hour access to the unit, so he could come and stay for as long as he wanted, whenever he wanted – the only rule he broke was sleeping there.
The video leads the viewer to believe this guy actually got away with living there for the time that he did, but U-Haul, who owns the facility in South Vancouver, has a different story. From CBC News:
U-haul has a slightly different version of events, saying the man’s locker lifestyle was illegal and once detected he was evicted long before he posted the YouTube video this week.
“Though the video insinuates he got away with doing this, this individual was caught and immediately evicted from the facility in November, two months before the video was posted,” said U-Haul spokesman [Jeff] Lockridge.
“Local management didn’t seek police involvement and was simply more interested in having the individual out and the illegal behavior ceased,” he said.
Regardless of the outcome, as someone who has kicked around the idea of living out of my camper van once or twice, I’m fascinated by everything he did to make such a small, cramped space livable. He did the same to his Honda Civic, too, which really blows my mind. Here’s a look at how he “camperized” his compact car.
Looking at that, I can’t help but be a little bit inspired to try and convert my VW Golf into a microcamper. Mind you, when you’ve already got a camper…
— Ken Elrick II (@DrPatchbeard) August 11, 2015
… Building another one isn’t necessary or really practical. But if I ever have the desire to turn a compact car into a camper in the future, I know what I’ll do now.