What is the Protocol for Returning Items to a Tenant?

Hey guys! Rebecca of Storage Heroes here… This is a topic that comes up all the time, and honestly, it’s one that I personally have had a lot of problems with.   What are you supposed to do with items that you find of a personal nature in storage units? It IS possible though to be a storage unit buyer AND a good person, all at the same time! We do revise this policy from time to time, but so far, here’s what my company’s policy is, and what I advise my clients to do.  It’s also seen as pretty industry standard, so I think most people would agree with me on this.   If you don’t, feel free to leave a comment!

First of all though, let’s just cover again (really quickly) what the storage unit foreclosure process is. It’s not the same in all the states, and certainly different auctioneers can tell you what their individual policies and procedures are a little differently (You can look at the resources on StorageTreasures.com for individual state laws), but they are at least kind of similar in structure. Here’s what a typical process is:

1. Person does not pay their storage unit bill.

2. Storage facility calls person and lets person know they are past due

3. Person does not show up to pay bill even after courtesy reminder call

4. Storage unit cuts person’s lock off of the door, and replaces with storage facility lock. (We get this question all the time, should you be suspicious of a unit that has the facility’s lock on it, but think about it– if they DIDN’T do this, what’s to stop the tenant from just showing up, collecting their things, and leaving without paying the tab? The facility owners have to hold the items to collect their past due bill).  We have a blog explaining the double-lock and security tag process, so if you’re curious about that make sure to read future posts!

5. Step #4 should be enough to let person know that stuff has been seized temporarily, but people are sometimes a little unaware– so often times the storage company will put a tag or note on the door saying “contact management”, “please pay your bill”, or “if you do not pay your bill you will lose your stuff. This means NOW”

6. Person still does not pay bill.

7. Storage unit decides to auction person’s stuff off to recoup some of their funds. Storage unit has to follow certain laws (see below) and has to pick a certain date at least 14 days away. They have to get a licensed auctioneer to conduct auction. They have procedure and protocol they have to follow (see below).

8. Storage unit must by law advertise in a public newspaper at least 10 days before the auction. They are required to put the tenant’s name so they can see they are being foreclosed on, (or their friends will see it and let them know) as well as the unit number. And if there’s STILL doubt about what the person is losing, they are also required to list some of the contents in the locker. It lists the date and time of the auction. We have actually seen so many of these facilities get sued by tenants who said they “did not know” their unit was up for auction that they actually keep a file with a copy of the newspaper ad, photographs of what’s in the unit, an itemized list of what’s in the unit, as well as copies of the certified letter, voicemails left, etc. They even are getting more careful when they list the tenants name. If the tenant is Robert L. Jones, for example, they will list Robert L. Jones, Robert Jones, Bob Jones, Bob L. Jones, R.L. Jones, etc. in the paper. It’s kind of silly, but I have seen tenants say they didn’t know they were being auctioned because their name was spelled incorrectly and then try to sue or claim damages.

9. The tenant has until the DAY of the auction to pay. They can literally run up during the auction and yell “stop, stop, I have the money!” — and then the auction is ceased. I’ve seen it happen. We have even won units at auction before at auctions that occurred THREE HOURS LATE, only to have the tenant rush in AS we were receiving our receipt in the office after the fact. It’s discouraging, (especially when the posted auction time was 12pm and the tenant ran in at 4) but understandable. The facility ALWAYS does better by keeping the tenant (happy customer, more rent in future months, no legal hassle, etc) then by selling their stuff at auction.

So, with that said, it’s obviously NOT a quick process. There are many reasons why someone can be past due. Where I am located, we never forget that we are still dealing with a lot of people here in New Orleans who are still in some way trying to get their lives back together after Hurricane Katrina. My point though is that we usually don’t know the tenant’s backstory.

PERSONAL ITEMS – If we find a diploma, or birth certificate, or a box of photographs, or baby teeth, or whatever— we return that to the office whenever possible and they usually pass it on to the customer. Some offices will tell you not to bother because they’ve already sent certified letters, made phone calls, and taken the tenant to court and even hired a private investigator and they still can’t find them– so they just want you to throw the stuff away. But for the most part, we try to always return things that are of little value to us and great value to others. We’ve even gone above and beyond by returning things to tenant that DID have value (bronzed baby shoes, sterling silver baby spoons, etc)– just because of the sentimental value attached to it.

Here are a few situations where we felt it appropriate to return the tenant’s items to them. Currently, the items we return are:

1) Personal items – yearbooks, photographs, etc
2) Sentimental jewelry (Class ring, wedding ring, grandma ring)
3) War memorabilia
4) Paperwork – tax returns, leases, water bills, etc
5) Items of a loved one who has passed away – Funeral guest books, or in the case of a baby- their baby clothes, or a loved one’s prized item (grandma’s sewing machine), etc.
6) Items necessary for medical reasons – Diabetic insulin, needles, prescriptions, etc.

Leave your comments below, please! We’d love to hear them and your experiences with this topic. You can also find us on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/StorageHeroes

Rebecca Fox

1,507 total views, 4 views today

Rebecca Fox

8 thoughts on “What is the Protocol for Returning Items to a Tenant?

  1. I bought a unit a couple weeks ago. I found police items in it from the local police department. My wife suggested I do the right thing and take them back, so I did. They had me fill out a police report and then told the units owner my personal information! I will NEVER EVER do the “right thing” again. People will continue to get their personal stuff back but if it doesn’t have their name or picture on it I will sell it to the highest bidder. Pay your bills and I won’t own your crap!

  2. I buy several storage units a week up to 10 sometimes all over Indiana is hard to save everybody tax files paper work pictures or sentimental stuff unless people come to me , when I’m cleaning units and I have no problem given the stuff back at no charge when they are nice ! But some times they are rude so I I’m not gonna be nice I said if they request yes I give them back there sentimental stuff other wise no

  3. When I contacted the person who bought my storage, asking if it would be possible to get personal papers and pictures, he denied buying my storage unit. Why did he feel the need to lie and deny me my personal papers and pictures?

  4. Unfortunately, I’ve never been successful in getting items returned to the owner. Recently, I had a box of personal items (wedding album, baby book, diplomas and awards) from a unit that I tried to return to the office. I was told that I could not leave the items there. I learned that the owner was in a nursing home. I called area facilities looking for her but was unsuccessful. At a facility where I frequently purchase units, I am told not to bring anything to the office. When I buy a unit, the contents are all mine…. including the good, the bad, and the ugly!

    Thanks for introducing this interesting topic.

  5. I box up all of their pictures and personal stuff i.e. taxes, school pictures, awards. I take those and drop them off at the office. Some of them will take it all some will tell me to limit the amount. Try to go with the flow and be respectful.

  6. I found an immigration “green card” and associated/related paperwork, along with similarly difficult to replace items in a unit. I was happy to go to the trouble to find the person and return those items to them. It’s just the decent thing to do, plus I’ve never had trouble locating anyone and I’m not any type of licensed “detective” or whatever. I often wonder how much trouble the unit owners really go through to locate tenants. BTW, insulin (and most other medications, but especially insulin) BOTH expires and degrades/spoils, so it is actually a really bad idea to return “old” insulin. We’re all human beings. It takes very little for us to treat one another with respect, regardless of our individual circumstances.

  7. I’ve gone to great lengths to return items, locating an owner or relative and even paying to mail items out of state, only to receive nothing as much as a thank you. Once drove 20 miles to return a class ring. Girl said “Okay” took the ring and closed the door
    Of course this is not always the case and a few ungrateful or rude people won’t stop me from doing the the Christian thing in the future. But it is sad there are so many people these days with no class or simple basic good manners.

  8. Hey Rebecca Glad to see you back A great article as always I still have my memo book from the orginal training with tips that you provided Looking forward to more Cindy R

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