Where's My Stuff?
DEAR WALDMANS: I have been in the storage business for almost eight years. During that time period, I have had my share of delinquent tenants. It is always an experience to enter into a lockout procedure. There is so much aggravation in the entire process of selling someone's goods, it would certainly be a lot easier for all of us if the tenant just paid his rent on time. First you go through the ritual of renting the unit. You believe this person will pay, then "oops," they forget a month, and yes, you realize that is possible. The second time you wonder about the tenant, then the third time, oh great, it gets to the lockout point.
This is not the worst possible thing. About a month ago, one of my nonpaying tenants
from two years ago came into my office and asked, "Where's my stuff?" I actually
thought I was about to be robbed. I quickly obtained my professionalism and asked,
"What stuff are you referring to?" I knew then I was in trouble. "What is
your name?" I asked. After we went through the "get-to-know-you" process, I
tried to explain what happened to his stuff. Needless to say, he was extremely disgruntled
and ready to explode. His stuff had been sold more than a year ago. He finally quieted
down, but it sure ruined my day. How do you handle this type of situation?
--Your Stuff is Long Gone in North Carolina
DEAR YOUR STUFF IS LONG GONE: You are so right when you say people think the storage business makes money when it sells tenants' goods. The legal procedure that has to be followed is very rigid. Most tenants never understand the full concept of dealing with a nonpaying tenant. I would venture to say that an owner always loses money when he has to advertise a unit of goods for sale, move the goods and then try to sell the "stuff." We had an incident like the one you just experienced about four years ago. The tenant walked in and wanted his photos and tax papers immediately. He actually gave me all of 10 minutes to come up with these items. I instantly began to decide how I was going to have his pictures and legal documents reproduced. I knew I had to control myself and decide very quickly how to handle this situation. I knew I needed to go back to the basics of a business person: Be competent, calm and firm, and follow the rules that are legally established for your state. I explained the legal ramifications of not paying rent. I went down the list of what was done and why it was executed in that order. After some concentration, he remembered the certified letters and exactly what was taking place with his unit at the time. It is hard for any of us to admit we were at fault. This is especially true when we lose something due to our own negligence.
Although he was not happy, he realized what he had done and that the only alternative was for us to follow the law. I explained that we didn't just walk into his unit and take whatever we wanted. After explaining to him that we auctioned off the entire unit, not just bits and pieces, I think he believed were just following storage-facility rules. He actually understood the situation and I felt bad for the guy, after all, he had lost photos of his family--something that could never be replaced. As an employee or manager, you must realize that you can only do what you can. Rules need to be followed. You can go out of your way to help, but inevitably the goods are sold anyhow.
A father-daughter team, the Waldmans are self-storage owners/operators and attorneys.
In addition, Ms. Waldman holds a master's degree in labor and employment law from
Georgetown University. The Waldmans are co-authors of the industry's leading series of
books on self-storage operations: Getting Started, Forms, Policies & Procedures and
South Carolina Tools. Another creation of Ask The Waldmans are their colorful posters
designed exclusively for the self-storage industry. Comments and questions for ASK THE
WALDMANS may be sent to: The Waldmans, P.O. Box 21416, Charleston, SC 29413.
Views and opinions on legal matters are those of the authors. Professional counsel should be obtained before any determination or positive action is taken.