My storage facility burned down. How can I recover the value of my stuff?

Looking to various forms of insurance for coverage of property destroyed while at a storage facility.

Question

Last week, my storage facility had a huge fire. Most of the units, including mine, were destroyed. I only found out about the fire from the local news – I don’t even think the storage company has contacted unit renters yet. Although I didn’t have anything super valuable in there, I was storing furniture, clothing, and various things I inherited from my parents. How can I recover the value of my stuff?

Answer

While perhaps not as terrifying as a fire in your home, a fire in your storage facility can be extremely costly, frustrating, and frightening. The affected renters could lose important documents, expensive jewelry, or irreplaceable family heirlooms.

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to recover for these losses unless you have personal insurance. Most storage facility companies will include language in their standard rental agreement, which you would have likely signed, absolving the company of liability for damage caused by fires, floods, or “acts of God” (such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and the like).

Practically speaking, this means that it would be nearly impossible for you to sue the storage company for the monetary value of the items you lose. An exception to this might be if you could somehow prove that the company itself caused the unsafe condition, perhaps through grossly negligent electrical work, maintenance, or construction. However, this would be difficult to establish, and the lawsuit might end up costing more than the value of your belongings.

Your better avenue of recovery is through any personal insurance that you might have. There are two potential policies that might cover you.

First, review your records to see whether you purchased insurance at the time you rented your storage unit. Many storage companies will encourage renters to buy a policy that covers various types of damage; they do this specifically because the company’s own policy will not compensate individual renters.

Second, if you did not purchase storage insurance, and you own your own home, review your homeowners' insurance policy. Often, homeowners' insurance will include some level of coverage for personal property stored outside of the home – that is, in a storage facility. Call your broker and see whether your homeowners' policy has some sort of coverage for this damage.

The dangers of fires and floods are a good reminder that you should avoid keeping irreplaceable family heirlooms, original documents, or extremely expensive items in storage facilities, or if you do, be sure to purchase appropriate levels of insurance.

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