What do you do with records if no one else will take them? First, determine if your state statute discusses the right to “dispose” of property. In many states, in the small print, the statute says you may sell or dispose of property. While I do not know what your individual state means by “dispose,” I imagine the language was written for situations in which a sale is not possible, not simply a shortcut to clear out a unit.
If you have the right to dispose, there should be no problem with giving a notice of intent to dispose rather than sell, and then dispose of the contents properly by shredding or destruction. If you do not have the right to dispose, you may have to take the extra step of evicting the unit to get the right to dispose of the contents. In either case, the court of public opinion will never tolerate a large release of records containing a bunch of personal information into a dumpster.
Some of you have argued that the expense of shredding or other destruction is prohibitive and would ruin your business. Records disposal is not something you want to take on, especially if you believe there is no precedent to justify it. You do not control what goes into the unit, but suddenly you will have a duty to patrol what goes out.
I say there is precedent because there are other types of goods you would never sell. For example, if you opened a unit and found illegal property, drug-making paraphernalia, weapons, liquor or other items you know you cannot sell, you wouldn’t attempt it. You would arrange for proper disposal. In this day and age, records containing personal information are the “new” illegals, and you must make provisions to deal with them properly. If this means raising your rent on commercial units, so be it.
I’ve found that if you arrange for a regular shredding service, the price is pretty much the same whether you shred a little or a lot, and can be manageable. It’s time to factor a shredding service into your operating budget.
You can argue all you want that it should not be your responsibility to dispose of these records—and I will agree with you. But once the records are on your property and the unit goes into default, if you have no agency to take them, you cannot simply put them in the dumpster. First, you risk damage to your reputation in the community and the court of public opinion. Second, you risk causing your state legislature to escalate your current level of responsibility to an affirmative duty to find and properly dispose of records left in units.
The Maine bill comes with some extra neat “benefits” that will hopefully go away. For example, it requires storage operators to register with a bureau to regulate the industry, along with a potential registration fee. It also includes a records-disposal policy that must be approved by the bureau before you can continue your sales. Believe me ... it’s cheaper to shred or properly destroy these documents than it is to bring this kind of bad law into your state.
This article is for the purpose of providing general legal insight into the self-storage field and should not be substituted for the advice of your own attorney.
Jeffrey J. Greenberger is a partner with the law firm of Katz Greenberger & Norton LLP in Cincinnati and is licensed to practice in Kentucky and Ohio. Mr. Greenberger primarily represents the owners and operators of commercial real estate, including self-storage owners and operators. To reach him, call 513.721.5151; visit www.selfstoragelegal.com.