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Opening a Can of Worms: Disposal of Personal Records

Numerous self-storage owners are plagued with the problems of disposing of items stored by delinquent tenants, but the problem becomes increasingly more serious when those items contain records of personal financial information and the likes.

A recent article in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald regarding disposal of records left in storage by delinquent tenants reminded me that while self-storage has a come a long way in the legal realm, the adventure is long from over.

According to the article, a self-storage facility in Scarborough, Maine, was gearing up to auction off the contents of a unit in default. The unit had been rented by a mortgage brokerage that had gone out of business last summer. Bills had accumulated to the point that the facility owner needed to auction off the contents, following the regular protocol to do so by self-storage statutes in Maine.

The contents of the unit posed the biggest problem: 60 boxs of financial records with all kinds of personal identification, financial records, bank account numbers, etc. ... everything collected during the entire loan process. In short, this was kindling for a identity theft bonfire.

The self-storage facility, according to current law, could legally do so, but at what cost? According to this article, with handfuls of morgage firms closing their doors in Maine, the questions regarding this problem are flourishing.

Sherri Brown, vice president of a multi-facility operator and VP of the Maine Self Storage Association, says this is an ongoing problem for her site as well as others in the region. Her company requires new owners of auctioned-off units to return personal-information records to the management, thereby allowing original owners to reclaim them.

This is a practice not required by law, but a consideration her company takes to prevent personal information from floating into the hands of the wrong persons. Not a bad customer service, one would think. Attorney Jeffrey Greenberger agrees, stating he often gets calls from clients caught in the web of what to do with records after a tenant defaults.

"I get calls all the time and tell my clients not to sell the documents, shred them and avoid the bad publicity," he says. Unfortunately, a storage unit is caught between a rock and a hard place in this situation, and the only way out is to shell out more money. "Shredding 60 or 600 boxes is expensive, and no doubt the storage operator will be burdened with the cost of the shredding."

Adding fuel to the fire is the possibility that if legislators catch a whiff of this they might propose self-storage operators shoulder the responsibility of securing sensitive records from storage units going to auction, and then disposing of them in a secure (read: costly) manner.

That's unfair, says Chris McGrath, executive director of numerous Northeast storage associations, including the New York Self Storage Association, who says the responsibilty should fall back to the person or firm collecting and storing the records in the first place. "The professionals who prepared these records most times for a fee and whose professional responsibility is to properly care for and, when finished, [should] responsibly destroy such records under federal law," says McGrath, who refers to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act to back up his argument.

How many have been afflicted with this same problem? How have you handled this? Leave a comment by clicking below or writing to me directly at [email protected]. Stay tuned ...

 

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