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Death, Divorce and Disappearance: Tenant Events That Affect Your Self-Storage Business

By Jeffrey Greenberger Comments
Continued from page 1

I’ve also seen attorneys or litigants to divorces provide operators with copies of restraining orders, which very clearly indicate the other spouse may not dispose of, damage, etc., any marital property while the divorce is in motion. They use these orders to convince you that you have an obligation to deny the other spouse access to the unit. You should have these orders reviewed by your attorney, but generally, they don’t apply to you.

In a situation in which both spouses wish to be listed as the tenant, simply explain that only one occupant is allowed per unit, and each spouse may have access by knowing the gate code and receiving a copy of the lock key from the spouse who is renting.

Tenant Disappearance

Customers can also disappear or become substantially disabled during their tenancy, unable to manage their own affairs. One myth worth addressing is that being imprisoned somehow gives a person an excuse for non-performance under a rental agreement. However, being incarcerated doesn’t exempt tenants from their legal obligations, such as fulfilling their self-storage rental agreement.

Does disappearance or substantial disability impede the default? Possibly. If you become aware that a tenant has disappeared, unless there’s a court proceeding to determine the person is missing and presumed dead, you generally aren’t obligated to stop lien-sale or other default procedures.

In situations involving substantial disabilities, while you may not be obligated to change course because someone has been declared legally incompetent, look for the appointment of a guardian. Sometimes, there can be two—one for the person and another for the estate. Ask for guardianship orders, which vary by state and should be reviewed with your attorney, to understand whom you should be dealing with moving forward. Because these situations are infrequent, you need to ensure you understand the changes necessary to proceed appropriately.

Life changes happen everywhere. For a self-storage operator, the most important thing is to be smart and not assume you can proceed straight to default when rent isn’t paid. These situations require additional documentation before proceeding and could put your business at unnecessary risk.

This column 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 Greenberger is a partner in the Cincinnati law firm of Greenberger & Brewer LLP. Licensed to practice in Kentucky and Ohio, he focuses primarily on representing the owners and operators of commercial real estate, including self-storage. His website,, contains legal opinions and insights as well as an article archive. To reach him, call 513.698.9350; e-mail

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