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.
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:
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.
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:
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.