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How Self-Storage Operators Should Contend With 'Blanket' Subpoenas: Complying With the Law While Protecting Tenant Information

By Jeffrey Greenberger Comments

For years I've heard reports of the occasional self-storage operator receiving some sort of all-encompassing subpoena from a law-enforcement agency, meaning a subpoena to produce information about all facility occupants. However, in the last six to eight months, I’ve noticed a marked uptick in these reports.

These subpoenas tend to come from federal agencies such as the FBI or Immigrations and Custom Enforcement, and are normally delivered by an agent who expects you to produce all the documentation requested—often a list of your tenants’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers, credit card info, etc. Some even go so far as to request full copies of all your files. Onsite staff is asked to make a decision about patriotism while an agent flashes a badge and waits for a response. Here are some guidelines for self-storage operators facing this dilemma.

Can Agencies Do This?

Except where the FBI is investigating a drug case, there doesn’t seem to be authority for a federal agency to fish with “blanket” subpoenas for information at a self-storage facility, or anywhere else for that matter. Generally, the existence of the subpoena is supposed to be made known to the person about whom information is being requested.

However, there are obviously investigations in which providing notice to people that their information is being subpoenaed would lead to interference. Thus, it doesn’t appear every self-storage tenant needs to be notified by the agency that a subpoena has been issued before you respond, but a blanket subpoena is really a different matter.

Do you have to give the information while the agent is standing there? Certainly not. In general, a Duces Tecum Subpoena indicates you’re supposed to provide information within a certain period of time. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seem to indicate the minimum amount of time to provide information under a subpoena is seven days. The subpoenas my clients have recently been served have given them 24 to 48 hours to respond, but that’s at least enough time to follow the advice in this column and contact your attorney.

Compliance and Finding Middle Ground

The answer to whether you should comply is complex. If you’ve been properly subpoenaed and you believe the agent to be a legitimate person issuing a lawful request (as opposed to a guy checking on his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend), then more likely than not, you’re required to comply.

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