What to Do With Important Documents Found in Storage Units

When a storage unit tenant goes delinquent on payments, the facility owner takes possession of the unit’s contents. Auctions free up rental space and allow the owner to generate funds to make up for lost revenue.

Before listing a unit online or holding an in-person auction, it behooves the facility owner to inspect the unit. This protects them and bidders from potentially unpleasant surprises, and allows them to showcase big-ticket items to woo bidders. If a storage facility owner finds personal documents containing sensitive information, they are under no legal obligation to safeguard, return or destroy the documents. However, it’s still advisable to try those courses of action in order to avoid potential lawsuits.

Read More: Tips for Successful Yard Sales

Once you win an auction, you become the owner of a storage container’s contents. It’s possible both the former tenant and the facility owner overlooked sensitive documents. If you win a unit containing ceiling-high stacks of documents and papers, you might be tempted to take a cursory glance and then trash or recycle them. Consider shredding them instead. The law doesn’t say you have to, but it’s kind of a “do unto others” situation. You wouldn’t want someone stumbling across your SSN and treating it carelessly.

For documents with both sentimental and legal value, such as birth certificates or diplomas, consider trying to return them to the former tenant. But, if you can’t track them down, rest assured they can get another copy if they need it.

Bottom line? Don’t put sensitive personal documents in a self-storage unit, and if you must, don’t forget about them!

What if you find much sought after celebrity memorabilia in a stack of documents? Well, just look at what happened with The Beach Boys, who sued and lost against a storage unit buyer. We’re not saying “finders, keepers” but there is some precedent for such items being considered a fair find.

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18 thoughts on “What to Do With Important Documents Found in Storage Units

  1. Me in my husband storage was stolen and sold on this auction we lost everything our wedding pictures our kids games systems a lot of Sentimental things I had I would never get back that we worked so hard for 11 years worth of things we worked hard for is gone because the storage called USA storage on Belair rd in Baltimore md sold our stuff in told us it was stolen then they gave me 2500.00 dollars for my stuff just to drop everything against them I been trying to move on but it’s hard because I have lost a lot of memories that it’s so hard to get back if anyone have a heart please return my baby picture in pictures from my wedding my name is Shanta Watson in I pray everyday someone return my things please…….

  2. I recently had a storage that I was delinquent on auctioned off. I requested that my family pictures be returned and my family history research also returned as it included the death certificate of my grandparent and great grandparent who was a WWI Vet. I was told they agreed to return the items but did not and stated they could not come back to town to return them BUT they could have left them like they did the unimportant boxes of paperwork. I feel like they intentionally kept the requested items when what they obtained form the storage had no value to them and they received items work more than what they paid for the storage.

  3. Yep. Lost all we had in storage back in 2016. Mother had too big of a heart and instead of paying the thing or in my case, seizing the opportunity afforded by my retirement fund, she’d rather pay some tramp to watch said tramp’s kid. The lady over it was extremely rude during too only giving her mere hours to come up with the money instead of days as usual. Lost family photos, a family bible and other keepsakes. What can you do though right?

  4. I recently bought a storage unit and happened to find a couple titles. One to a truck and one to a trailer. What are the technicalities on this? I know you are supposed to return personal documents per auction rules, but also that there is no legal obligation to do so. I returned the documents in good faith they would be returned to the owner or at least destroyed. Since I purchased the unit do I technically own the vehicle and trailer? If I wanted to go through the legal system to get that court ordered to be signed over to me, would I be able to do that? I believe in karma and good deeds but i can’t help but wonder…

  5. Hi I lost my storage at extra space storage, I have documents and pictures of my kids and specially my parents who past away within five years from today. I would pay for them back. and you can leave message how i can get them back. Thank you I would really appreciate it

    1. Hello Roseann. Unfortunately, StorageTreasures is unable to assist you with your personal effects. You would need to contact the facility for more information.

    2. Hi Roseann, I am about to have my storage auctioned too. My husband told me we owe $1K because he hasn’t been able to pay it in 3 months and only gave me 3 days notice. I have so many sentimental items in there from my mother who has passed away and my son left his necklace with her ashes in there. Someone needs to change the law or something or maybe when the renter keeps in touch and explains their situation they could extend it a little longer. I could have the money in a week but they don’t care about me or my things. This is the saddest I’ve ever been since the day she passed. I am equally sorry you lost your things too. People like us fall on hard times and there obviously isn’t enough kind or understanding people in the world. If I had money I would buy units and give the owners a chance to get their things back because I’m not greedy and only out to make a buck. My mother taught me better than that.

  6. Some people will never ever know the struggle behind somebody’s auctioned unit!! I indeed would of tried and contact the person to give back personal information. I mean things happen in life!!! I am a victim of having my storage auctioned off recently and I tried begging the place about retrieving personal stuff like pictures. There are crooked people in the world who don’t think like everybody and to just turn things, yet they make someone’s life a living hell!! Especially if the storage facility is infested with rodents, it’s like the least you can try and do is work with the people!!

    1. Exactly. We’ve been paying on 2 storage units but got behind 3 months on one and now I’m about to lose everything any day now. I’m totally heartbroken. So sorry you lost yours too.

  7. They (owners) keep stuff all the time I have downloads of Numerous sales ads where they say car not included in sale , Trailor not included in sale or my personal favorite owner/management reserves the the right to remove or exclude any items from sale.
    Ummm no you don’t!!
    Do they really not know the legality of the sales or are they hoping that we don’t?

    1. Hello and thank you for your comment. Every state has different laws. With regards to vehicles if there is another lien on the car they cannot sell it, that goes for any motorized vehicle. Also, there are laws pertaining to firearms, drugs, and alcohol. If there is every something out of the ordinary that doesn’t seem right please contact us and we will do our best to work with the facility who posted the auction to understand the situation. StorageTreasures is the platform for which the facility conducts their auctions and they may have specific policies that are part of their lease agreements. To be sure, you can always reach out to the facility to ask questions, their phone number is listed on the Facility Homepage accessible from the Auction Details page by clicking on the Facility Name. I hope this helps! Have a nice day and good luck on your next auction win!

  8. I disagree with storage facilities staging units to WOOOOOOOO buyers…. I hate that.. wondering what else has been hidden.. that the storage place hid to raise the price, the door should be raised and the unit photographed as it is and left alone… just like live auctions…. the buyer should sort the important documents or burn them. There should never be a buyers question of the storage unit being staged… I WILL NEVER BID on a staged unit period… that is against the rules as far as I am concerned. No one should be past the edge of the door if they want my money for a unit. When I buy a unit, I buy everything in it, and I DO try to return personal pics, documents to the facility… sometimes they make it clear they have lost all contact with the tenant, so I destroy that stuff. This is not a TV show.. this is real life and real money and I do not want to wonder if something is missing that could have been in there or if it was a set up to try to get more money…. I will never do business again with that facility. PERIOD.

    1. I agree with Chris G. Facilities going through a unit should never be allowed nor should employees and their families be allowed to bid. I was bidding on 2 units and found out after winning one of them, I was bidding against an employees brother who was there when the photos were being taken. They had seen a locked metal box that was not visible in any pictures. The employee excitedly told me about how much money and how much valuables were in there. I couldn’t figure out why that 5×5 unit was going so high when it showed kid toys and bags of clothing.

  9. On my first unit I ever bought we found creamated ashes, I took them back to the storage unit that had the auction and was told they could not get in touch with the past renters. So I took the ashes to my church and was told by the pastor to throw them in the garbage. Needless to say they are still in my house and on day I will get the post hole digger out and give them a burial.

    1. That’s So awesome of you to do what’s right…Holding on to those ashes I lost all my possessions about a year ago at Auction.Funny thing is my shit had only been in there may be 4 months at the most..with 2 months of that paid….Anyways I just wanted to Vent.God Bless You!

    2. Wow Russ, I really respect you for doing that. I was happy to hear you say that. “Throw Away” ? Never in a million years could I do that. There truly are good people still left in this world and YOU are one of them.

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