A Guilderland couple who say they have an estimated $200,000 worth of belongings at Prime Self Storage said they hired a lawyer to stop the company from demolishing the business at 103 Old Mill Lane.
The storage company was severely damaged by fire on April 6. Officials have said at least 25 units were destroyed by the fire, while others had significant smoke and water damage. Some units remained intact.
Dave and Erica Murrell said the company is offering $3,000 to all customers with insurance through the company.
The Murrells said they have their own separate insurance policy.
But they said the belongings in their unit are salvageable, and they just want them back. They said Sunday they retained attorney Paul DeLorenzo of Schenectady to launch a class-action lawsuit on behalf of other aggrieved customers.
Prime Self Storage was on lockdown last week, surrounded by temporary fencing as a security guard sat in a pickup truck in the parking lot. A site manager occupied a sedan.
When a reporter approached the site manager’s vehicle, she refused to roll down her window. She was observed using her camera to take photos as upset customers spoke to a reporter and photographer outside of the fire scene.
Calls to the company’s corporate offices weren’t returned last week.
The Murrells, and others, are attempting to build a circumstantial case alleging a man who rented multiple units was living out of his units. They said the man is a habitual smoker.
In an interview last week, South Schenectady Fire Chief Dave Stern confirmed that the man in question was trying to “beat out” the fire with a wet towel when Stern arrived at the fire.
The man, whose identity wasn’t known to authorities, wasn’t injured.
A charred rubble pile sat in front of one of his storage units.
“He eventually just kind of wandered away during the fire,” Stern said. “The investigators did speak to him.”
But Stern said he does not believe the man in question lived at the business.
“According to the neighbors, he would come to the bin daily, pull up a chair and feed the animals — squirrels and birds,” Stern said.
Building inspector Jim Keith agreed, saying he also does not believe the man lived at the storage business, although he appeared to spend an inordinate amount of time there.
“I don’t even know his name,” Keith said. ” I didn’t get any of that information.”
The Murrells said their lawyer has a private investigator working to find the identity of the man in question.
On the issue of allowing customers to get salvageable items, Keith expressed understanding for the positions of both the business and customers.
“I think it’s a big liability to let anybody in there,” he said. “But I also understand people have their contents. They want to be able to get in, or have their insurance companies get in if they’re insured, to see what damage was done so they can collect money, as well as the property manager.”
The Murrells said they have studio equipment, appliances, collectibles, and photos and other items of sentimental value stored in their unit.
Erica Murrell was miffed by what she said was the company’s unprofessional behavior to upset customers.
Murrell said she believes the company is being retaliatory, because she was outspoken when she spoke to officials of the business the day of the fire.
Having rented her unit for seven years, Murrell went on to contend that the business is engaged in a cover-up about the man in question living there.
“That’s their negligence because the man lived here and they know that,” she said.
Murrell said regardless of what time of day or night she visited her unit, the man was always there.
“I’ve watched him wake up and I watched him go to bed,” she said. “They can’t lie to me. I know the truth.”
She pointed to a charred swivel chair in front of his unit. She said he sat in it as he fed squirrels and birds while smoking. She said she’s even witnessed him put ice and lunch meat in a cooler.
“Of course they’re going to cover [themselves] for insurance purposes,” she said. “I totally get that. But you’re not going to play me. You’re going to be held accountable for what you did because you know that he lived here.”
Another frustrated customer, Steve Long, of Scotia, said he’s part of a middle ages recreation group that has rented a unit from Prime for about 10 years. Long said they had $30,000 worth of items in the unit.
“We’re upset at the loss,” Long said. “We’re recovering and moving on, where we didn’t lose our house. The biggest loss for us was we had items made almost 50 years ago for us, and moved them here in the unit.”
Long, too, believes the man has lived in the unit for years.
“I feel like he was,” Long said. “I don’t have proof that he was.”
Whenever Long needed to go to his organization’s storage unit, he said he always did so at night. This was to avoid the man in question and his constant smoking, Long said.
“I’ve seen him here, and the prior people before me that had this job going back to 2014 had seen him here at all hours,” Long said, adding that it appeared the man ran a “knickknack shop of some kind” because he was observed with a money box.
“I’d say, ‘Oh God, he’s here again. Does he ever leave?’ “
Meanwhile, the Murrells have developed a Facebook page for aggrieved customers: Rotterdam Storage Fire Victims United.