New Port Richey, Florida -- A Holiday woman says she came across a disgusting problem when she showed up to her storage unit at Sentry Mini-Storage recently.
Inside unit 712 at the facility on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey, Naomi Verilhac says she found two dead rats and evidence of many more.
Photo Gallery: Rat Damaged Storage Unit
Most of her belongings, including furniture and her wedding dress, were either chewed through or soaked in rat feces and urine.
"My brother or son moved something, and the maggots just scurried," Verilhac recalled.
Right away, she went to the facility's front office.
"[We] told them we had a critter, and they were like, 'Oh, so you're the one. We had it narrowed down to you and the [unit] next to you.'"
Verilhac says the rodents left her $100 leather reclining chair saturated in urine, gnawed up the bottom of a custom $300 wooden cabinet, left feces and urine on a $250 upholstered massaging recliner and soaked her $700 mattress and $100 box spring with urine. Her $800 David's Bridal wedding dress also had rat urine down the side of it.
"The worst was my bed. Because I need that," she said.
Verilhac walks with a limp and says she suffers from arthritis in her three lower lumbar and her right hip.
She'd first put the items in storage in October, as she was going through a divorce. She was moving into her brother's house, which didn't have room for her furniture.
In February, she decided to return to the storage unit to get her bed so she could sleep better. That's when she found the damage.
"It looks like the rats had a party in my unit," she said.
When Verilhac first talked to Sentry Mini-Storage management, she says they refused to give her any compensation for the damage. Legally, according to the lease Verilhac signed, they're not required to. Her lease clearly states that the company isn't liable for any damage in the unit for any reason.
Eventually, management offered her $80 to have the mattress cleaned.
After 10 News Reporter Janie Porter spoke with management, they upped their offer to $300 "purely as a matter of good will and for the purposes of settlement only," their attorney told 10 News through a faxed letter.
Still, Verilhac says the damaged items total about $2,200.
"To me, when you rent a storage unit, you have that expectation of it being critter-free," Verilhac said.
And even if she had purchased insurance, the items wouldn't have been covered. According to the company's insurance booklet, their insurance covers burglary, lightning, windstorm, hail, water damage, fire, smoke, earthquake, building collapse, explosion, vandalism and even riot.
Rodents or pests are never mentioned.
"They consider this an act of God," Verilhac said.
"I'm sorry. I don't think this is an act of God. This isn't a tornado [or a] robbery... this is pest control."
A member of Sentry Mini-Storage management, who only disclosed his first name, told 10 News that the rats "aren't my problem." He says he blames the rodents on ongoing construction along U.S. 19, which he says has pushed rats onto his property.
Sentry Mini-Storage, which has locations in Holiday and New Port Richey, is not listed as an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau and hasn't had a complaint filed against it since 1997.
Verilhac immediately went online and filed a complaint against the company.
She's also working with the BBB's free mediation service to try to get a better offer from Sentry Mini-Storage through phone mediation.
She has not yet accepted Sentry's $300 offer.
Before renting a storage unit, the Better Business Bureau suggests customers make sure the company is accredited by the BBB. Also, check for any past complaints against the company.
Sometimes, homeowners insurance will cover damage or theft of items in a storage unit. Verilhac didn't have homeowners insurance.
Here are some more tips from the BBB on renting a storage unit:
- Cost: Obtain written cost estimates from at least three facilities. Most will insist on inspecting your items before offering an estimate. If a facility gives a phone estimate, look elsewhere. Costs to consider include the monthly rental fee (usually there are a minimum monthly storage charge and a minimum number of month's storage); storage preparation, padding, packing or transportation fees; and fees for extra options (electricity, pest control, insurance) you may choose. Ask how the fees are to be paid and by what date.
- Size: What size storage units are available? Is there a maximum weight limit for unit contents? Can you jam-pack the entire unit from floor to ceiling?
- Climate: Consider the general climate and whether your belongings might be subject to mold or water damage. If so, you may want to consider an environmentally-controlled unit.
- Insurance: Make sure your items are insured from theft, fire or other damage. The facility may provide basic insurance or you can choose to purchase insurance from an alternate source. Some homeowners' policies cover self-storage.
- Safety: You will need a heavy-duty, secure lock protecting your storage unit. Ask if the facility has surveillance cameras on the property and if a system is in place to restrict access by strangers. Ask for contact information to reach someone at the facility in case of an emergency.
- Contract: Get everything in writing - the size and location of the unit, options (such as climate-control) that you have selected, termination regulations, insurance coverage and payment terms.
- Access: What are the hours and related charges for accessing your unit? Is there adequate room for parking and is the distance from your car/truck to the rental unit acceptable?