Personal Documents in Storage Auctions

Personal items found in boxes

Why They’re There, What to Do with Them, and When to Walk Away 

During live storage auctions, it is not uncommon to open a unit and see filing cabinets or file boxes full of folders and papers. Immediately, auction buyers begin to ask, “can we leave the files?” Technically, if not legally, the answer to that question should be yes, the files can be left behind.  Most self storage lien laws do not specifically address the topic of items containing personal information. However, almost every state has other regulations on the sale of items revealing someone’s identity. This includes tax documents, medical records, legal records, pay stubs, identification paperwork, etc.

What Does the Law Say? 

Is it illegal for the storage operator to sell the items? Yes, and no. It is likely illegal for them to sell such items KNOWINGLY, but most self storage laws do not require operators to inspect the entire contents of the unit for auction. Operators are required to provide a general description of the property in the legal advertisement, so they do need to have a general idea of what is in the unit. Many of the laws go on to say operators or managers are not required to open boxes, trunks, cases, valises, or other items that might contain additional property. This part of the law is good news for auction buyers because this is what stops managers from needing to touch everything in the unit. It also leaves a lot of property unknown. Likewise, as an auction buyer, you don’t stand at the storage unit and go through each box as you are cleaning out the unit. You probably don’t even look through all the stacks of paper you see when you finally do organize your winnings. You likely toss the entire stack in the closest garbage bin.

Personal Items and Online Storage Auctions 

Online storage auctions could make it easier or harder to identify personal items stored in the unit. You have more time to look at the photos and investigate the contents of the unit. However, often, photos are blurry or dark and you cannot make out any of the items in the unit. Additionally, you don’t have a facility manager standing beside you to permit you to leave the files or records behind. You have no way of knowing how the facility manager will react to personal items once you have won the unit.

What should you do if you discover documents revealing a person’s identity?

  1. Attempt to return the documents to the storage facility. That could potentially be a big hassle for you. The facility might be far away or closed. It is also possible the facility might refuse to take the items back. It is not unheard of that happening.
  2. If the facility won’t take possession of the documents, or it isn’t logistically feasible for you to return them,  my best advice to you is to destroy the documents so there is no possibility of someone recovering them and committing identity theft. If you have a staff who helps you clean and organize units you bought at auction, make sure they understand the sensitivity of these items and dispose of them properly.

Are there times when you should not bid on storage auctions because of files or personal documents? Absolutely! If you see a unit full of banker type boxes, like these, Personal files in a storage auction unit and they say something such as “legal records” or “medical records,” you should not buy this unit. The facility should not be selling these items, and in turn, you should not be reselling these items either, assuming someone would buy them. Essentially, there is nothing you can do with these items; thus, there seems to be little reason to invest in them.

Check out all of our great unit listings on StorageTreasures.

Best Selling Units of 2019 on StorageTreasures

Best Selling Auction Units in 2019

Curiosity is a fundamental component of human nature. It makes us want to have an eye into other people’s lives to see how they live. There is no better evidence of this than the fascination with storage auctions. This curiosity is what made all the storage auction reality shows wildly popular and led to hundreds of people showing up at storage facilities on auction day. After ten years in the storage auction business, some of the most common questions I hear are, “do the units have really good stuff in them, or are the TV shows fake? While I feel the need to tell people most storage units do not contain hidden treasures, there are sometimes units that sell for incredible prices, and people always want to know what was in them. Here are 10 of the highest-priced units sold on StorageTreasures in 2019.  

10. Flat Screen TVs in Bordentown, New Jersey – Sale Price $8,410 

10x45 online storage unit filled with flat screen TVs and other merchandiseThe description provided by the storage facility for this unit said, “over 50 different named flat-screen TVs, but that wasn’t even close to everything in this 10×45 unit. There were unopened boxes of name brand luggage, comforters and pillows, and furniture. Bidding on units with flat-screen TV boxes is always a gamble, but with over 50 different ones, the odds were in the bidder’s favor, right?  

 

 

9. Band Performance and Stage Materials in Honolulu, Hawaii – Sale Price $9,070 

8x16 abandoned storage unit with touring equipment for a band including stage pieces

USA Today claims Hawaii is the #1 most expensive state in the U.S. to live in, and auction bidders there spend big as well. We have over 3,000 registered buyers in Hawaii, and two of them went head-to-head over this unit for quite a while, with 21 bids in the last 10 minutes of the listing. This unit contained everything a band would need to go on tour. There were several of the rolling boxes used to hold delicate equipment, amplifiers, speakers, DJ equipment, and even the aluminum stands to frame up the stage.  

 

8. Dolls and Collectible Figurines in North Hollywood, California – Sale Price $9,110 

Abandoned storage unit containing collectible figurines of celebrities and dolls

Is there a more appropriate place to find collectibles and figurines of famous people than NoHo, an Arts District North of Tinseltown? This unit had depictions of The Three Stooges, Bill Clinton and his saxophone, and even Abraham Lincoln. It was a 10×15 unit full of neatly stacked boxes, a bidder favorite, and other boxes that seemed to contain more collectibles. This unit contained the contents of what had once been a collectibles store.  

 

7. Lionel Train Sets in Surprise, Arizona – Sale Price $11,060 

 

Nothing invokes the memory of childhood holidays quite like a Lionel Train set. However, there is a serious collector market for old trains, especially Lionel Trains. There are entire stores and giant expo shows dedicated to trains. I know this to be true because my Father-in-Law is quite the enthusiast, much to the chagrin of his four sons. Almost every box in this unit had the name, Lionel, on it, and there were also materials for building the tracks to set up the trains.  

 

6. Baseball Unit in Kingsburg, California – Sale Price $12,010 6

At first glance, this unit looks dirty and full of old stuff, but I have learned from bidders over the years, the more dust, the better the unit. Undisturbed dust means the items in the unit have not been touched in quite some time. The contents of this unit were once a baseball or sports memorabilia store. There are boxes of baseball cards, stacks of the plastic containers prized baseball cards go into, and even display cases for the items. While we can’t see what is in the boxes, the crown jewel of this unit was a vintage cash register covered with a thick layer of dust.  

 

5. A Mover’s Unit in Hayward, California – Sale Price $14,800 

The first thing you notice about this unit is the wrapped pallets with names on them, followed by the vast number of unused moving boxes. Unwrapped pallets of boxes are a treasure hunter’s dream. The gamble, the excitement, it is almost too much not to bid. However, the value of this unit does not stop there. There are also ornate wall hangings and home décor. Top that off with stacks of boxes in the back of this 10×30, and this unit is a goldmine.  

 

 

4. Large Safes in Alpharetta, GA – Sale Price $14,910 

This unit is the definition of household goods, but a lovely household, indeed. It is not surprising considering the Metro Atlanta market has always been HOT, HOT, HOT for storage auctions. This unit had home décor, tools, children’s toys, furniture, boxes, luggage, and everything else you would expect to see in a typical household goods unit, but it also had three large standing safes. In addition to that, the furniture appeared to be well made and well kept. This unit would be a reseller’s big win.  

 

3. Model Cars in Chicago, Illinois – Sale Price $15,070 

There seems to be a theme with collectibles on this list and spoiler alert – it’s not over yet! This unit is a little different from other collectible units because it is all model cars. Some were in boxes, some were in cases, but the entire 10×30 was filled with model cars. This unit had almost 2,000 views on StorageTreasures and 164 bids.   

 

 

2. Artwork in Staten Island, New York – Sale Price $16,050 

I have always been amazed by the experienced bidder’s ability to determine the value of storage units. To the untrained eye, this unit looks like some plywood with paint slapped on it. However, this unit contained much more than that. In the back of the 10×30 is what appears to be stacks of artwork. There were also some sculptures and photographs of the famous rocker, Courtney Love, and an advertisement picturing Marilyn Monroe offering painting services. Given its location in the Five Burroughs of New York, this unit was probably a safe gamble.  

 

1. A Little Bit of Everything and a Bidder’s Dream in North Babylon, New York – Sale Price $38,840 

This unit is the highest-selling unit in the history of StorageTreasures. There were almost 10,000 views on it and nearly 300 bids. I have always known that bidders had their favorite items to look for in a unit. We call them “furniture bidders” or “tool bidders.” This unit has just about everything a bidder could want. It had safe, comic books, power tools, clothing, gun cases, electronics equipment, collectibles, and even a box that says “Stan Lee” on the side of it. The winning bidder on this unit lived in Washington state and immediately hopped on a plane for New York as soon as the sale was over. That has to be another record for StorageTreasures; farthest distance traveled for a storage unit.