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Advice for Self-Storage Operators on Dealing With ‘Abandoned’ Tenant Goods

By Scott Zucker Comments

It’s a reality in the self-storage industry that customers will sometimes simply abandon their property. Such an abandonment can take many forms. If a tenant is unable or unwilling to pay his bill, he might:

  • Remove what he wants from the unit and leave the rest behind
  • Forego any recovery of the property
  • Sign an abandonment and release of his rights to the property in lieu of going to lien sale

In each of these situations, the facility operator is left holding the bag, responsible for managing the proper disposal of the abandoned property. Here are some procedures you should follow to prevent this from happening, or if it does, to legally empty the unit.

Cleaning Deposit

One way to deter tenants from leaving property behind is to assess a cleaning deposit during the rental process. The amount can be as much one month’s rent, which can only be recovered if the tenant cleans out his space at the end of the lease. Surprisingly, a deposit has a high level of success in motivating tenants not to only clean out their units but to properly notify the operator of their intended departure.

Contract Provision

It’s important to address the possibility of an abandonment in your facility’s rental agreement. Although some tenants will tell you they’re abandoning the property, many don’t, so it’s important to have a fallback. Your lease should include some type of language to address the issue of abandonment and what will happen, such as:

This agreement shall automatically terminate if the occupant abandons the space. The occupant shall be deemed to have abandoned the space if the occupant has removed the contents of the space and/or has removed the occupant’s locking device from the space and is not current in all obligations hereunder. Abandonment shall allow the owner to remove all contents of the space for disposal. Occupant hereby waives and releases any claims or actions against owner for disposal of personal property resulting from occupant’s abandonment.

The issue of tenant abandonment is of such importance that many state statutes are getting into the act of addressing the situation as part of the operator’s statutory rights. For example, Massachusetts provides for the following:

Pursuant to Section 105R:9, in the case of an abandoned storage space, the operator shall have the right to take possession of the storage space after 14 days and dispose of any personal property in the storage space by any means so long as the operator has attempted to contact the occupant on two separate days, at least three days apart or, if unsuccessful, has attempted to contact the secondary or emergency contact, if one was provided, to discern whether the storage space is abandoned.

The Maine statute also provides a remedy:

“Abandoned lease space" means a leased space that the operator finds unlocked and empty or unlocked and containing personal property with a value less than $750, or a leased space possession of and all rights to which and any personal property within which have been surrendered to the operator by the occupant.

How to Proceed?

Unfortunately, without a clear written notice from a tenant or statutory permission, you can be left in a quandary when you find a unit for which payment hasn’t been made and in which some property remains. Can you dispose of the goods? Should you initiate the lien process? Are the remnants just “junk”? This becomes a business challenge.

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