What Would You Do? Common Self-Storage Legal Conundrums

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Zucker: Certain types of items require special handling and should not be included in the sale. These include vehicles or vessels subject to DMV registration and requiring DMV title clearance, firearms, alcohol or controlled substances, human remains or ashes, and illegal items or contraband. Some states have special restrictions on the transfer or disposal of individuals' personal papers, documents or records. In those states, the facility owner and any auction buyer must agree to handle any such items in accordance with the laws of that state, including but not limited to the requirement that all such items be promptly shredded or disposed of in a way that makes such personal information unreadable.

Typically, the facility owner will announce at the auction that he will take back any such items for proper handling, provided the buyer calls such items to the facility owner's attention in a prompt manner. There are instances in which the buyer will fail to disclose the presence of certain items in the unit. In this case, there's no liability to the facility owner, since only reasonable inspection is required (boxes do not need to be opened), and the owner has no ability to control the actions of the buyer, who may fail to comply with the auction rules.

What would you do if a tenant altered the rental agreement before signing?

Again, geraldine1051 indicates she would call her attorney, while the Haesslers say they would refuse to rent to anyone who altered the agreement. SST member MRV (full name not provided) has never allowed someone to rent who wanted to alter the basic agreement. "We do have an addendum page, but we have to sign off on it in order for anything on it to be valid," he writes.

What SHOULD you do?

Greenberger: As the facility owner or owner's agent, you should inspect every rental agreement to ensure it hasn’t been changed in any way by the tenant. The attorney who drafted your agreement included specific clauses for precise reasons. While certain factors may be negotiable, such as rate, terms, security deposit, etc., those spots are normally left blank in the lease to indicate these are variables. Other than that, you should not accept any changes to the rental agreement.

If you're the facility manager, you're not authorized to sign such a change on behalf of ownership. Even if you're the owner, you don't want a change to any clause of the lease because it might have a domino effect on the rest of the agreement. You may think a change is innocent enough, but often even the smallest alteration can have a detrimental “carryover” effect on other clauses that may be much more important.

If for some reason you sign the rental agreement and then notice an alteration, you should a) give notice of intent to terminate the lease as soon as possible at its next renewal date (the amount of time you have to give is generally defined by your rental agreement, and you may have to wait a full month), or b) send a letter stating that the rental agreement will be changed back to its original text at the next renewal date so as to avoid having to terminate the tenancy.

Seek some assistance from your attorney with this letter, but generally, it would say the provision the tenant modified will be changed back to the way it was originally written. It will then restate the original clause(s) and notify the tenant that payment of next month's rent indicates his acceptance of the change. This gives the tenant the opportunity to move out if he can't live with changing the agreement back to the way it belongs, i.e., the way you wrote it.

Zucker: Generally, self-storage rental agreements are non-negotiable, meaning the tenant is not permitted to change any of the standard terms of tenancy. Certainly, managers are given latitude to address rental rates, but they are not typically allowed to accept revisions to the central issues addressed in the lease such as the non-bailment, insurance or limitation-of-value provisions.

There are circumstances in which the facility operator may be willing to negotiate certain terms, especially where the tenant agrees to rent multiple units for an extended duration of time. But generally, you want consistency between all tenants. Therefore, if a tenant attempts to change the terms of the document (for example, strikes a paragraph), such a change should not be accepted.

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