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Need extra storage space? Lock and key may not be enough

After moving to the area a couple of years ago, Heloise and Joe Gibialante had a problem familiar to many South Floridians: not enough closet space.

So they rented a unit at the Public Storage facility at 2336 Biscayne Blvd., paying $17.99 for a padlock and buying $3,000 worth of insurance — both recommended by Public Storage. In went clothes, furniture, dishes and the sewing machine that didn’t fit into their one-bedroom apartment in Edgewater.

When they went back to Public Storage recently to collect their possessions, the Gibialantes were shocked. The padlock was still in place, but some treasured items, including a pricey and elegant Betsey Johnson winter coat, were missing.

“It’s sentimental but [it was] a beautiful coat I bought my wife for our anniversary. We were in New York then,” said Joe, a hotel general manager, “And just like that, it’s gone.”

Also gone: a blue, beaded gown Heloise wore to her son’s wedding in Poland. It, too, had great sentimental value.

Shock turned to anger when they were told by management that they could not collect on the insurance because — since the lock was intact — there was no evidence of forced entry.

It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to crack the case. Unit 3229, like others in the facility, has a gap between the front wall and the side wall big enough for a thief to reach in and snatch non-bulky items. The missing possessions had all been stacked, leaned or hung within reach of that gap.

The Gibialantes filed a theft report with the Miami Police Department. The Gibialantes said the officer also noted the gap. But that did nothing to get their stuff back.

It is not the first time that Public Storage, a giant in the industry, has been dinged over security-and insurance-related issues.

A few years ago, a class-action lawsuit was brought in California against Public Storage over the way Public Storage employees sold insurance to customers. Public Storage employees had no formal training about the product they were selling nor about the terminology they were using. California law also required that employees selling insurance had to be licensed.

Nancy Barron, a California attorney who worked on the case, said customers mistakenly believe that storage facilities offer the same level of security as a safe deposit box in a bank. They do not.

At the Gibialantes’ invitation, The Miami Herald examined the unit and took photographs, including one of Joe Gibialante reaching his entire arm through the gap in his supposedly secure unit. The Herald emailed a photo of Gibialante to various officials with Public Storage, including COO Shawn Weidmann.

Two days later, Weidmann called back with some news. He said Gibialante and Public Storage had reached an “amicable agreement” on the matter.

Weidmann didn’t want to go into specifics, but Joe Gibialante was happy to do so. The company met him halfway, paying $1,500, or half the value of the insurance. He said Public Storage pointed out that the language in the contract stated customers should not store valuables worth more than $5,000, an admonition he violated.

As part of the deal, he had to agree to stop griping about Public Storage on social media.

So it turned out fine in the end, except: What about the gap in Unit 3229 and other units at the warehouse on Biscayne Boulevard, and perhaps at other locations?

Shawn Weidmann answered by email: “It is being evaluated.”