My Storage Facility Is Threatening to Sell My Stuff! What Now?

Understanding the steps before a storage unit company can sell renter's goods after nonpayment.

By , Attorney Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
Updated 7/26/2023

For many people, the reason they've put things into storage is because their life is in transition. They've perhaps had difficult times financially, and lack living space in which to store things. But that can also mean they have trouble paying the monthly storage rental fee. If that happens to you, you're likely to receive a letter from the storage company soon, threatening to sell all of your possessions if you don't remit payment immediately. What should you do?

This article will discuss your rights with regard to the storage company and what you can do to forestall an auction and get your personal goods back.

Is It Legal for the Storage Facility to Sell Your Things?

The thought of losing one's possessions is heartbreaking and frightening. Many people use storage units to hold irreplaceable items, such as family heirlooms and original legal documents, in addition to clothing, furniture, and so on.

If, however, you haven't paid your rent in the storage facility for a number of months, it is not uncommon for the facility to threaten to sell (or discard) your possessions, often via an auction. This is ordinarily legal, so long as the storage facility gives notice of your default (nonpayment) and follows other procedures laid out in its written contract with you.

You'll want to research your state's law for limitations on what a storage company can actually do. The law might, for example, mandate that the storage facility notify you via a particular method (such as mail or email) or provide public notice of the upcoming auction. It is also likely to require a number of weeks' waiting period between your default and any public auction, so as to give you time to pay off your debt and get your stuff back.

What's in Your Contract With the Storage Facility?

Now is also the time to review the fine print of your contract, starting with its definition of when you're in default. Expect to see something set between five and 30 days after payment was due. At the point of default, the contract might explain that you will be denied access to your storage unit altogether.

Although unlikely, there's a chance your contract violates the terms of your state's law, so contact a lawyer if you're seeing clauses that seem too egregious to be legal.

Can I Stop the Auction?

Storage facility auctions usually occur either on the site of the storage facility or in an off-site location. Public notice of the auction is given, and third-party consumers can attend and purchase your items. Indeed, many consumers pay special attention to announcements of these types of sales, since they can buy goods at relatively low prices.

The specific procedure for how your company would conduct this type of sale will depend largely on state law and the fine print of your rental agreement. Most likely, the agreement specifies exactly what the storage facility can do and when. You will likely get a letter notifying you of the company's intentions well before the actual sale. A 30-day notice provision would be typical.

If you receive such a letter, remember that selling all of your possessions is not the company's first choice; it would much rather receive payment for the storage unit. Selling your possessions requires work (though they often sell the whole contents of a storage unit at once, rather than going piece by piece). It is far easier for it to simply collect rent from tenants, which is precisely why it is sending you the frightening letter in the first place. It wants you to pay.

Thus, if at all possible, you should quickly respond to the letter with full payment. If you are unable to pay the full amount due, don't despair. There's a decent chance that the storage company would accept a partial payment, or a payment plan, in lieu of full payment.

For example, imagine that you owe $300. See if you can get a manager on the phone, and make an offer to pay $100 immediately, followed by payments of $50 over the next four months. The immediate payment gives the company confidence that you are not a deadbeat, while the longer-term payment plan gives you a chance to get your finances in order. This sort of approach will generally prevent the storage company from putting any of your personal items on sale.

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