When I first learned about what happened in Maine, I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone proposed a bill that would go way over the top and make storage operators legally responsible for the items sold. It appears our nightmare scenario is potentially coming true.
The problems with the Maine bill are several. First, it imposes a different kind of liability on self-storage owners than it does on any other real estate owner who might evict a tenant. For example, under the bill as written, if a mortgage company is evicted from its office, the building owner would not have the same responsibility as a self-storage owner to control and dispose of the records. The same holds true for an apartment owner.
Thus, the Maine bill is potentially unconstitutional because of its prejudicial treatment of the self-storage industry. The facility owner, who is simply trying to reclaim his space, is punished under this bill, which makes storage the best go-to dumping ground for business records. In essence, if business owners cannot shred their records, they can put them in self-storage, where the operator retains all the liability.
As a self-storage operator, you generally do not have any control or knowledge of what is stored in a unit. Even if you wanted to prohibit records from being stored and created a lease provision to do so, there’s no real way for you to enforce it.
What Should You Do?
Self-storage operators in all states should learn a lesson from Maine. If you find a unit that appears to be full of records, do not sell them. If you find a unit containing records and other items, sell the other items and exclude the records. You may be able to work with a state agency that will be willing to take the records into custody.
In Ohio, we have an agreement with the local Academy of Medicine stating it will take any medical records stored in a unit that is in default rather than allow the records to be sold, lost or otherwise destroyed because patients may need them. It appears in Maine that the Consumer Credit Protection Agency would have been willing to take the records if the owner would have released them.