A Deep Dive into Storage Auctions

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Storage auctions were virtually unheard of before A&E’s “Storage Wars” gained popularity, joining the new phenomenon of oddly specific reality shows like “Hoarders,” “Auction Hunters” and “Pawn Stars.” Anyone who has ever watched an episode of “Storage Wars” or “Auction Hunters” may think that storage auctions are some of the most exciting, cutthroat events around, but the old adage holds true: Don’t believe everything you see on TV.

If you’re worried about the belongings inside your self-storage unit falling into the hands of eager auction-goers, save yourself the graying hair— having your possessions auctioned is less likely than these shows would have you believe.

The Laws You Should Know

A facility will only auction the contents of a storage unit if the owner fails to pay rent past a certain number of days. If this is the case, the storage facility must correctly notify the delinquent tenant of any unpaid rent, fees or outstanding balances before proceeding with auction procedures. While laws vary by state, these basic principles hold true across the nation:

  • Storage facility managers and operators are legally bound to send the delinquent tenant several notifications if he or she fails to pay rent. This can range from post to email, according to the specifications of each state’s law, so be sure to keep your information up-to-date to avoid any unfortunate surprises. These notifications must include an itemized account of the claim and the date before which the tenant must pay.
  • If the storage facility receives no response or payment from the delinquent tenant, only then can they advertise the lien sale. Again, this may vary from posting in the newspaper classifieds to making an online announcement, according to each state. The law requires that the advertisement includes descriptions of the property, the tenant’s name, address of the facility, time, place and terms of sale, and a statement that the property is being sold to satisfy the lien.
  • If at any time the delinquent tenant pays, the auction is nullified and the goods are given back to the tenant.

Keep in mind that most storage facilities don’t enjoy auctions and aren’t the enemy in these situations— auctions are sometimes the only way that facilities can legally procure owed rent. Any additional revenue from the auction must be returned to the delinquent tenant, per law.

Be sure to check your state’s laws on lien sales; facilities in Indianapolis, for example, can only proceed with enforcement of a lien when a renter has been in default continuously for 30 days. Facilities in Vancouver, however, only require 14 consecutive days of unpaid rent before proceeding. Read the fine print of your lease agreement; otherwise, you may end up like Lindsay Lohan, who owed nearly $16,000 for unpaid rental fees, according to reports.

How Storage Auctions Work

If you’re interested in attending a storage auction in the hopes of picking up some undiscovered gems, don’t be fooled by the seemingly action-packed environment depicted on reality TV. Countless journalists have attended real storage auctions and returned with reports that they were nowhere near as exciting or dramatic:

  • Before bidding begins, bidders may preview the contents of the unit from the door. Those participating in the auction are generally not allowed to step inside the unit or touch anything.
  • After the auction, the winner of the unit usually has about 48 hours to remove the contents and clean the unit. They are not allowed to dump trash from the unit onsite.
  • The winning bid must be paid in cash.
  • If the auctioned unit has personal documents like birth certificates or tax records, the winning bidder must return these items to the office for return to tenant.

Most storage auctions happen quickly, and in our experience, bids rarely go above $300. Additionally, you won’t often find exciting stuff like a car or hidden valuables— most units will be filled with boxes, unwanted furniture and random knickknacks.  It’s helpful to remember that the storage unit is up for auction because the owner stopped paying rent, which could speak for the importance of the contents inside the unit. Follow the lead of experienced auction attendees: Place your bids accordingly, and don’t be fooled by the audacious bids you see on TV.

Jenny Zhang is a writer at SpareFoot, the online marketplace where you can find and reserve a self-storage unit with comparison shopping tools that show real-time availability and exclusive deals.

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