Rats in My Storage Unit! Can I Sue the Company?

Ensuring that your off-site storage needs aren't affected by pests.

By , Attorney (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law)

If, like many Americans, you keep some of your personal property in a rental storage unit, you no doubt count on it staying clean and pest-free. But what if you stop by there, perhaps to move some boxes in or out, and see rats? You'll no doubt worry that there's some sort of infestation, and that these and additional rats might nibble their way into your boxes. Your clothes, furniture, and other valuables could be ruined. Can you sue the storage facility company? We'll suggest steps to take here, including:

  • establishing the source of the pests
  • getting in touch with the storage company
  • figuring out the storage company's compensation policy, an
  • finding out whether your homeowners' insurance company (if you own a home) would provide coverage.

Check Whether You've Inadvertently Attracted the Pests

Before running to the company, make sure that you yourself did not attract the rats, for example by storing food or sweets in your unit. Most likely, your rental agreement has a term that would prohibit you from keeping any such items in the facility.

Contact the Storage Facility Management

Next, you should immediately contact your storage facility company. The company might not be aware of the rodent problem, and it should quickly call an exterminator to mitigate the infestation and damage.

Look Into Collecting Damage Compensation From the Storage Company

The fine print of your rental agreement might indicate that the facility is not liable for any damage to your property beyond the company's control; for example, damage done by a fire or an earthquake. But you'd have a strong argument that an infestation of rodents is within its control, and that the facility was negligent by failing to set rodent traps or conduct routine inspections.

Or, the facility might indicate that you could or should have bought storage insurance to cover your possessions. You could likely point out, though, that rats and vermin are commonly excluded from such insurance coverage.

Ultimately, any decent business would offer to evaluate any damage to your belongings. If there is actual physical damage, it should pay. If it doesn't, you would be within your rights to write a letter (or have an attorney write a letter) asking for compensation. Remember, storage facilities are in competition for business, and fear bad word of mouth.

Rent abatement for the month when you saw the rodents would be a reasonable amount of compensation. Therefore, it is in the company's best interest to address the situation and attempt to make you whole, especially if it could do this with just a few hundred dollars.

Would Your Own Homeowners' Insurance Cover You for the Pest Damage?

If you own a home, you might take a look at your homeowners' policy to see whether it covers property kept in a storage unit. Homeowner's policies commonly provide some coverage for off-site personal possessions. However, the compensation it would provide is likely to be a small fraction of the items' value. And again, policy exclusions for rodents and such might cancel out any hope of getting reimbursement.

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