How to Handle Portable Restroom Theft

Nothing is foolproof, but there are ways to reduce and recoup some losses when restrooms go ‘missing’

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Most people have had a “klepto moment,” as I like to call them, during their life. When you are a child and you pocket a toy at a friend’s house. Or when you are in college and you foolishly take a poster from a party while under the influence of some very cheap beer. You know these moments. For the most part — while stupid — they are harmless.  

Stealing is something completely different. According to the dictionary, it is “to take (another person's property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.” When a customer steals from you, they must be held accountable for it.

There are a couple of ways to protect yourself. Having customers sign a contract when they rent from you is the first step. It should state that anything rented from you needs to be returned in the same condition as when it was delivered. Obviously if the unit is stolen, you did not get it back in the condition you delivered it. 

It sounds ridiculous, but units are stolen more often than I would like. I’m not sure why anyone would steal a portable toilet, but it does happen. Nine times out of 10, the customer would be responsible for the cost of that unit. The rest of the time, usually in the case of municipalities, you have no recourse due to limited liability of the customer.  

In my experience, the customer is shocked when you want to charge them for a lost unit. But that is probably because they don’t understand what that one unit can cost you. In the case of a standard portable toilet, there is around $500 in replacement cost, depending on which manufacturer you use. Then there are the missed rentals while you wait for a new unit to be shipped to you. If shipping takes a couple weeks, that could be another $500. Maybe $1,000 doesn’t seem like a lot, but depending on where you are located, that is one driver’s pay for a week.   

When working with certain customers, you understand that there will be losses. Certain festivals or music events lead to rough behavior or drunken foolishness. A burned or crushed unit is almost expected. A portable being crushed at a job site is really not that shocking either. But theft is completely different, and no business should accept it. 

You can’t completely protect yourself, but there are certain ways to prevent loss. Cover your company with agreements, and obtain prepayment by credit card. Insurance to cover the loss of your units is also a great safety net. If possible, don’t leave restrooms out longer than necessary. No one wants to pick up on a Sunday afternoon, but in rougher areas, it’s in your best interest to pick up right after an event. 

In the event that you didn’t get paid upfront and now you have to cover the loss of a unit on top of the invoice, set a timeline. What is a suitable amount of time you can devote to chasing late payments before you send a customer to collections? The benefit of a collections agency is that you usually get your money. The downfall is that you will most likely lose that customer. If the customer is that important, consider asking them to meet you halfway on the cost. In the end, a partial payment is better than no payment. 

These are just some of the ways you can protect your assets. There will be some losses, and you will come to expect them. Certain procedures allow you to recoup most of your losses, which is the best way to proceed. 

About the author: Alexandra Townsend is co-owner of A Royal Flush, based in Philadelphia.



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