Public Storage bamboozled storage space renters into believing they were required to buy company provided insurance in order to rent units, customers testified Monday at the start of a class action bench trial in California seeking $100 million in restitution from the national storage giant.
Richard Mojica — one of four named plaintiffs in the class action — had just finished college in the Bay Area when he learned that his grandmother was gravely ill in San Diego. Deciding to temporarily put all of his belongings in storage so that he could spend time with his family, Mojica testified that he signed a lease with Public Storage in January 2016, but that he didn't read the contract closely.
Instead, he said, he relied on the employee helping him to summarize it and point out where he needed to initial. It was at this point, he said, that he was misled into believing he was required to purchase the storage company's in-house insurance program in order to rent the unit.
"My eyes were naturally following where her finger went," Mojica said. "I trusted her. I felt hoodwinked."
The class argues that it was misled into buying insurance, from which Public Storage receives a profit, and was told it was required in order to rent storage space from the company.
But Public Storage maintains that, while it does require customers to have insurance on their belongings, it does not require them to buy the company's in-house coverage. The company also argues that its employees do not give insurance advice and are given a script to follow when explaining the insurance requirements and options.
The company argues that the lease contains an insurance addendum that tells customers the in-house insurance is just an option and that they can seek insurance from elsewhere, and that employees give the customers a brochure explaining that the in-house insurance is just one option.
Simona A. Agnolucci of Keker Van Nest & Peters LLP, an attorney for Public Storage, said in her opening arguments that the plaintiffs knew about the insurance and did not read their contracts.
"It's obvious there is no deception here," said Agnolucci.
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