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Best Practices for Self-Storage Lien Sales: Handling Abandoned Goods, Personal Items and Other Problems

An operator made a surprising discovery when prepping a self-storage unit for a lien sale. The case is a good example of the many headaches that can accompany these auctions. Here are some best practices to keep in mind.

Amy Campbell

June 23, 2023

4 Min Read
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If you’ve spent any time on YouTube perusing the scores of videos uploaded by self-storage “treasure hunters,” you’ve likely seen more than a few in which they come across personal items during their clean out of the unit. It could be birth certificates, photo albums, military awards, grandma’s wedding dress, medical records … and the list goes on. Then there are the cringe-worthy discoveries such as pornography or sex toys, weapons, drugs and paraphernalia, cremated ashes belonging to a pet or even a person, taxidermy, and other odd things. Yikes!

This recently happened to a self-storage operator who opened a unit in lien status to begin the process. In a thread on Self-Storage Talk, the operator posted how shocked they were to find the space filled to the brim with pornography. While they plan to move ahead with the auction, there are now some moral and legal concerns around the sale. Other members have chimed in about how they’d proceed and shared similar stories.

In another thread, a member asked advice on how long they should hang on to personal items after an auction. This is a common question and there are differing opinions. Some operators believe once a bidder pays, everything in the unit is their responsibility, including personal items. Others will work with the auction winner to return these belongings to the tenant. Join this discussion to add your opinion.

While self-storage operators have a legal recourse for recouping lost revenue when a tenant stops paying rent, not every auction goes smoothly. In addition to discovering personal items, operators must sometimes deal with winning bidders who fail to pay or remove all the items from the space. Then there are those sales that languish because no one wants the unit contents. There are also many hoops to jump through just to get to auction day. Here are some best practices for lien sales, culled from our amazing archive of articles, blogs and videos, to keep in mind.

Prevent delinquencies. Let’s begin with a brief discussion on ways to help tenants stay out of the default zone. Yes, these are grownups and should be 100% responsible for managing their responsibilities. But we live in the real world and know that’s not the case. Regular reminders are an easy way to keep tenants from slipping behind. Insurance, mortgage and credit card companies send payment notices and so can you. To make it even easier, you can automate the process. If you aren’t sure how, check with your software provider. Also, be sure to gain consent to text your customers. This is even better than sending an email.

Follow your lien statute. This is vital! Many states have updated their lien statutes. Do you understand your state’s laws? It’s imperative that you do as one misstep could leave your self-storage business vulnerable. One way to make sure you have everything in order is to create a checklist that you complete for every single lien sale. Add every step of the process and keep track of your progress by initializing and adding the date completed.

One facet of lien sales that has changed in many states is how you notify your customers about it. This article explains what “verified mail” means.

Considerations for abandoned goods. There may come a time when a self-storage tenant simply decides they no longer want the items in the space. Hopefully, they inform you before vacating the unit and will agree to sign an abandonment form, which makes the lien process much easier. However, this isn’t always the case. Get guidance on what to do in these situations in this video.

Have a solid rental agreement. While you can never fully alleviate any problem that might come your way when it comes to lien sales, a comprehensive rental agreement can divert many troubles. If your lease hasn’t been updated in the last two years, it’s time for a closer examination to make sure it’s on target. Be sure to ask an attorney—one versed in the self-storage industry, if possible—to take a look.

If you’re ever in doubt about a lien sale, stop the process and start over. Sure, it’s annoying, but it’s better to play it safe!

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Editor, Inside Self Storage

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