If you think property left in storage is safe, think again

2014-04-01 00:00

WHEN LesleyAnne Jewell entrusted her household contents to a storage company, she had no reason to doubt that in six months her goods would be safely delivered to her new home.

But when Storage Cube delivered what was supposed to be one of her two boxes from its Cape Town storage facility, in November last year, Jewell was disappointed to find it was the wrong box.

Jewell’s disappointment turned to horror when the company advised that it couldn’t find her goods — including her furniture and general household items as well as personal items like photographs, family heirlooms and important documents.

On its website, Storage Cube advertises its “stress free, secure, self storage facilities” in Cape Town and Johannesburg with a service soon to be opened in Durban.

“Four months later, they still don’t know what happened to my things. Their insurance has advised my attorney that they can’t process a claim as Storage Cube can’t explain what has happened to my things and therefore they have no incident to claim against,” Jewell complained.

Jewell said she had lodged complaints repeatedly with the company. She said staff told her on March 3 that her file had gotten “mixed up with someone else’s” and she had to re-submit it.

“When following up a week later, I was told no one knew where the file was nor the status of the complaint,” Jewell said.

Jewell claimed that the owner of Storage Cube, Costa Konti, had not called her even once to apologise for the incident or offer an explanation.

“Where I have managed to reach him he has been rude, abrupt and dismissive. I am at my wits’ end. My life has been turned upside down by this experience,” Jewell alleged.

Jewell said the company had paid for her to stay at a guesthouse for a week in December but this had not fixed the problem.

“I’ve been to their warehouse on numerous occasions, when they’ve ‘found some cubes that may be mine’ and was shocked and appalled, when my keys did not fit the locks, they simply removed the doors!

“They are taking money for the safe custody of goods and yet they have no concerns about violating their other clients’ right to privacy,” Jewell alleged.

Jewell said she wrote to Storage Cube’s insurance broker, RBS Katz Brescal, and handed the matter to her attorney, who sent the company a letter of demand for the return of her goods or payment of R349 197.

Jewell said Storage Cube did not respond but its insurance broker forwarded an e-mail from Lion of Africa insurance company’s claims negotiator Bianca McGrath implying the incident was not an “insured event”.

“It has not been proven that there was any loss of or damage to the third party’s goods, merely that they have been misplaced,” McGrath wrote.

“I repeatedly tried to make contact with Konti via the Cape Town branch last week. Branch manager ‘Melissa’, who declined to divulge her surname, said the firm’s attorney would respond to my e-mailed questions.

“I had pointed the company to section 65 of the Consumer Protection Act, which requires that businesses taking possession of a consumer’s property — be it a deposit, membership fee or any other property must ‘hold and account for’ it.

The act is clear that it’s the business’s responsibility when “handling and safeguarding” a consumer’s property, to “exercise the degree of care, diligence and skill that can reasonably be expected” of someone responsible for managing someone else’s goods and is “liable to the owner of the property for any loss resulting from a failure to comply”.

Storage Cube’s attorney, Tuanette Juby, without elaborating, said Jewell and Storage Cube were bound by a “contractual agreement”.

Juby said Jewell’s complaint about poor service and rudeness was her “matter of opinion”.

“Our client has taken all steps possible in alleviating Mrs Jewell’s frustration by paying for her lodging while trying to locate the goods, searching for weeks on end and eventually lodging a claim with the insurer,” Juby said.

Juby denied that the insurance company had repudiated the claim, saying it was still “being processed”.

She said the company’s insurance policy covered such cases, adding that the company was “still continuing to search” for the missing goods.

Regarding Jewell’s concerns about privacy, Juby said that “under the circumstances” there was no other way to search for the goods.

“This was, however, done under strict supervision,” Juby added.

I will keep you posted regarding the outcome of this case in the coming weeks.

• Send your consumer issues to Lyse at consumer@3i.co.za

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