I'm a big fan of Bettie Page. For those of you who don't know of this legend (gasp!), Bettie is the woman who, in 1955, won the title "Miss Pin-Up Girl of the World." Most renowned for her shiny black hair and trademark bangs, Bettie appeared on the covers of magazines such as Wink, Titter and Beauty Parade and as a character in Dave Stevens' illustrated novel, The Rocketeer. Her image, feverishly purchased by admirers all over the globe, still appears on playing cards, record albums, lunch boxes, t-shirts and more.
What does Bettie have to do with self-storage and legal issues? While recently reading one of her biographies, I stumbled upon an interesting fact: During 1957, while between permanent residences, Bettie suffered an injury that left her wheelchair-bound and unable to work. After several months of depleted savings, she was unable to pay rent on a storage unit she had rented in New Jersey. The owners evicted her and sold all her belongings, including family mementos and her modeling portfolio. According to the author of the biography, Bettie never even had a chance to bid on her items in auction or stop the sale.
Inside Self-Storage has published numerous articles on legal issues, including the charge of late fees, composition of rental agreements and execution of lien sales. (To access these and other articles, visit the online archive at www.insideselfstorage.com.) It is more important now than ever for owners and operators to understand their rights and obligations under the law when dealing with tenants and their goods. It may be Ms. Page could have sued the storage facility for wrongful sale if the manager didn't make sufficient effort to contact her or publish notification regarding the auction of her things. Or it may be Bettie had no justification for recourse.
In his article "Contending With a Lawsuit," page 20, columnist Jeffrey Greenberger discusses the most popular antagonists of litigation in self-storage, as well as ways to avoid being on the receiving end of a suit. He also outlines key steps to take if you are sued and some resolution alternatives to court. Also in this issue, Carlos Kaslow, general counsel to the Self Storage Association, clarifies how to protect yourself and your facility from legal complications related to the dumping and storage of hazardous waste, and David Weissmann explains the ins and outs of the 1031 exchange.
It doesn't pay to be careless. Be aware of self-storage laws in your state and, most important, be active in the creation of litigation that relates to our industry. There is no cure for the disgruntled tenants you will, no doubt, encounter from time to time. But being mindful and cautious will go a long way toward protecting your assets.
Teri L. Lanza