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Legal Considerations of Storing Boats, RVs and Other Vehicles: A Self-Storage Operator's Guide for Avoiding Pitfalls

Jeffrey Greenberger Comments
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Require a drip pan or absorbent pad designed to retain petroleum products under the parts of a vehicle that might leak. If properly placed, it can catch dripping or leaking fluids, protecting you from environmental contamination. Since very few people carry their own drip pans or absorbent pads, you can sell them as a source of ancillary revenue.

There’s also a customer-service aspect. If you ever see a drip pan or pad containing some sort of unknown fluid, you have the opportunity to call the tenant and let him know his vehicle is leaking. You’ve just saved the customer from breaking down on the road, and you’ve stopped the vehicle from causing hazard or damage to your property.

Vehicles in Default

What happens when a vehicle-storage tenant defaults on his rent? Make sure you have remedies to this situation built into your rental agreement. If your state permits removal of the vehicle by a lien right, eviction statute or towing to an impound lot, give yourself these rights in your lease. Additionally, post whatever signage is necessary or required in your state.

Assuming you have a default clause in your lease, make sure one of the remedies listed permits you to terminate the gate access of the stored vehicle. If the occupant removes his vehicle from the facility and has not paid his rent, you can then prohibit him from returning the vehicle until rent is paid. In some states, you can consider a tenant to whom you have denied access to be a trespasser if he tries to re-enter the facility.

Being able to tow a vehicle off the property helps you minimize your damages, even if you’re not able to sell it once it is towed. (In most states, selling a vehicle is complicated, expensive, and often does not result in any money for the self-storage owner because of prior liens. See above.) If you’re allowed to tow and you do it early in the default, you’ll be glad.

Rules and Regulations

Not only do you need a lease or addendums covering the aspects of vehicle storage mentioned above, you’ll need rules and regulations. For example, a vehicle in the storage area may be subject to an aesthetic requirement. You may not want to allow vehicles with rust, defaulted tires, broken windows, etc. Or perhaps you want to require vehicles be operational, currently and accurately registered, or subject to annual state inspection. Your rules and regulations may also include items such as back-in or front-in parking, and charges for occupying too many spaces or the wrong space.

If you wish to prevent your vehicle-storage area from looking like a junkyard, you must incorporate your rules into your lease. This will give you grounds to terminate an agreement if a tenant fails to comply.
It’s important to work with your attorney to incorporate vehicle-storage provisions into your lease. The best time to address these issues with customers is when they sign the lease, before you give them access to the facility.

It’s important to ask about vehicles because many people rent a traditional storage unit intending to put a motorcycle in it. If you don’t ask you won’t find out, and then you’re potentially stuck with a problem. Remember, while vehicle storage may be profitable, an unexpected problem not covered in your lease can quickly make it a losing venture.

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

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