Online Leasing & Paperless Offices: Are They for You?
Consider the Pros and Cons
by Connie Niemann Heyer, TSSA legal counsel
All modern businesses must determine their preferred level of technology use. Choices abound from full-time staffed facilities leasing the old-fashioned way with pen and ink to unmanned storage facilities using only websites and kiosks for leasing activity. This article outlines some of the legal and practical advantages and disadvantages of varying levels of technology use to help you make a decision that best suits your business.
TSSA offers its members the ability to have their customers sign leases online. This is accomplished through TSSA’s online forms software (Blue Moon) used with management software and an online leasing platform. True, online leasing saves staff time. For example, you may be able to provide an online virtual tour of the facility rather than having an employee physically walk the property with a prospective tenant, as ultimately the employee wouldn’t need to spend time assisting the tenant with the tour or executing a lease.
Online leasing helps you “strike while the iron is hot” by allowing you to quickly convert a prospect exploring their options for storage into an actual tenant. Online platforms typically make it easy for tenants to update their own contact information.
Management software used in tandem with an online platform automatically tracks inventory of available units and allow tenants to pay their rent 24/7. Some kiosks even capture biometric data from tenants.
Online leasing offers many advantages, but as with many things, there are challenges that come with those advantages. For example, the more technology you use, the more training your employees will need and the more technologically sophisticated your employees will need to be in order to operate successfully. The need for employees to be technologically savvy may mean paying employees more as well as having a smaller pool of employees from which to hire.
Online leasing also removes the human, personal-service factor, which can be a competitive advantage for a facility employing a great manager. It removes the “eyeballing” factor as well—your ability to simply get a bad feeling from someone who won’t answer questions about their storage needs, wants to pre-pay in cash, etc. Online leasing removes opportunities to identify potential red flags. It is more challenging to confirm a tenant’s identity with online leasing situations than it is in person when he or she is handing you a driver’s license or other form of ID; the potential for fraud can be greater with online leasing if the tenant does not come into the office before taking possession of a unit.
Having a “paperless office” may be a nice buzzword but can be something of a misnomer. Certain things like contracts, unless executed entirely online, require printing out and signing, after which they can be scanned and stored. It is unrealistic for most businesses to be entirely paperless. However, some paperwork and paper storage can be avoided through the proper use of technology. Each business owner must determine the right degree of being “paperless” for their own operation.
One of the advantages of using technology to minimize paperwork and paper storage is that your office needs less physical space. You don’t need rows of file cabinets, just a scanner and a server. There is less chance of documentation loss with use of technology to store documents; a properly backed-up computer system will mean that you can’t lose all your business records through fire, flood, hurricane or other casualty event.
Online records allow much easier access—they can be accessed remotely from almost any location. Online records generally lessen the chance of a misfiled document. Online leasing and digital record storage are eco-friendly as well, which is not only an admirable environmental goal but can also be a competitive advantage. When proper protocols are followed, online record keeping is also generally more secure than having paper files in a filing cabinet, which could be more easily accessed. Having online records also provides an enhanced ability to maintain and retrieve information from anywhere as you or the tenant may need it.
One disadvantage to increased use of technology in the office is the need to keep up with software upgrades as well as computer and server maintenance. An IT service provider will need to be added to your list of vendors. You will need to take steps to help ensure the cybersecurity of your system and protect it from malware. Your employees will need technology training and will also need to be comfortable using technology.
Paperless offices also cannot eliminate human error, such as a lapse in protocol when someone forgets to scan a document before destroying it or puts the document in the wrong server folder. And no matter what, most businesses will need a Plan B (or will simply have to cease technology-dependent operations temporarily) for the inevitable power outages and computer crashes.
In conclusion, from a legal perspective, a lease executed online through a proper online leasing platform is equally as enforceable as a paper lease signed by the landlord and tenant. Also, from a legal perspective, a scanned copy of a lease or other document is just as enforceable and admissible in court as an original kept in your paper files. Whether to use online leasing technology, and to what extent to use other technology in your business, is simply a question for each business owner to answer for themselves.