My storage facility is threatening to sell all my stuff! What should I do?

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

Question

I have had a difficult year financially, and haven’t been able to pay my monthly storage rental fee for a couple of months. Today I received a letter from the company that threatens to sell all of my possessions if I don’t remit payment immediately. What should I do?

Answer

The thought of losing your 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 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 generally legal, so long as the storage facility gives notice of your default (nonpayment).

Such 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 for 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 the fine print of your rental agreement. Most likely, the agreement specifies exactly what the storage facility can do and when. You should familiarize yourself with its abilities under the agreement.

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. 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.

During this time, though, you might want to reclaim any irreplaceable items in the unit, like legal documents or family heirlooms. Taking those items back into your possession will ensure that, even if the storage company does put your other things on sale due to your failure to pay, you won’t lose your most irreplaceable items.

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