Criminals in our midst!


The last few decades have seen a proliferation of purpose-built developments offering “self-service” storage units to the public at large – typically the size of a single garage or smaller - in exchange for a monthly rental or fee.

The rental of these storage units is ideal for a party down-sizing, or going through a divorce, or renovating, or relocating, or simply for use as an extra storage facility in an era characterised by increasingly smaller living spaces.

As attractive as such storage facilities are to the man in the street, they are also becoming an increasingly attractive proposition for the temporary storage of stolen or counterfeit goods, or contraband.

It is not uncommon for landlords whose business it is to rent out such storage units to be faced with a demand from a law enforcement official to be given access to one or more storage units. This may in turn lead to the seizure (by the law enforcement official) of some or more of the goods stored there.

Possibility of police search and seizure

So, for example, the Criminal Procedure Act permits a police official to search (and by extension to enter upon, where applicable), any land, building, structure, or container, without a search warrant, if he or she believes that a search warrant would be issued to him or her but that the delay in obtaining a warrant would defeat the object of the search.

The same piece of legislation also permits the police official to seize any goods he or she finds there which he or she suspects of being concerned in the commission of a criminal offence.

Similarly, the Customs and Excise Act permits a customs officer to enter upon any premises without a search warrant, if he or she believes that a search warrant would be issued to him or her but that the delay in obtaining a warrant would defeat the object of the search.

A landlord dares not – under pain of prosecution – obstruct a law enforcement officer that is about his or her lawful duties.

Conclusion
In this environment, a landlord also needs the protection of a suitably worded agreement to, amongst others: establish that it had no cause to believe that the goods were stolen or were otherwise unlawful; permit it to grant access to the storage unit in the absence of the lessee; and absolve it of any responsibility for any goods so seized and removed from the storage unit by the law enforcement official.


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