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 informationbut 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. However, 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. However, 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, but it also leaves a lot of property unknownLikewise, 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 

How Online Storage Auctions Work: Your Guide To Great Bids

online storage auctions

What Are Online Storage Auctions?

An online storage auction is an auction involving defaulting automatic storage units. Typically, tenants fall behind in their payments or leave items behind causing a default. Each state requires a certain amount of delay before the unit can be auctioned, typically within 30 to 90 days.

Defaulting storage units are then auctioned for the highest bidder to recover the rental fees the storage company has lost. All items are sold in bulk like the entire unit, not sold separately. With the mass price of the units, their chances of making a profit are high, leading thousands of people to participate.

How Do Online Storage Auctions Work?

Regardless of which site you choose for your first bid, online storage auctions are similar across the board. When you start your search for the first time, you’ll notice a few things about each drive listing right away:

A selection of photos: Each listing will include a photo of the storage drive or maybe even some, depending on the contents of the drive.
Remember that the storage drives that are full will include content that you cannot see. This is why it is important to read the listing carefully before bidding.

A time limit: Each auction will only last a certain period of time. This time limit varies according to the website and the wishes of the storage company.

Description: Each unit will have a description of what appears to be included in the listing. The auction company or storage company will do its best to communicate an accurate representation of what is available.

Location: The location of the storage unit will always be listed with the company name. Some sites also include the storage company’s time schedule so that you can guarantee withdrawal.

Capture time limit: You only have a certain amount of time to clean your storage drive. This varies depending on the company of the storage drive and most is only 48 to 72 hours after purchase.
Some other things to keep an eye on are a cleaning deposit, the size of the drive and the value of the current bid. During the auction, bidders will bid and withdraw until the auction ends and a winner receives the unit.

Bidding for the First Time

First thing first, you need to choose a platform or a website. Most sites require you to sign up before bidding. After that, you’re ready to go.

When searching for a drive, be sure to re-check the location and content to ensure it’s exactly what you’re looking for; there’s no way back after you buy a storage drive. Once you find a drive that you’re happy with, you’re ready to make your first bid.

Most auction bids occur in increments each time, which means that you cannot place a bid that is only $1 higher than the previous bid. Most sites require a minimum bid of $10. You can stick around and bid manually or you can choose to place a proxy bid, that is, set a maximum bid and the system bids to keep it at the top until it reaches your maximum bid. Setting a proxy bid allows you to continue with your daily tasks without checking the auction too often.

You will continue to bid until you reach the maximum or until you win the unit. In case of your win, you will need to take the necessary steps to pick up your items and pay for your unit. Most companies will require a cash payment at installation; however, some allow you to pay with a debit or credit card.

Be sure to pay for your unit in a timely manner. You run the risk of losing your unit if you don’t pay on time.

Before you visit the facility, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Call first: Call the facility so they know when to wait for you. Make sure you are there before the time limit.

Bring some tools: You will want to bring garbage bags, gloves and other cleaning tools to help you move your items. Boxes are a great idea too!

Bring a truck or trailer: You will have many items to pack and take with you. Be sure to bring a truck or trailer with plenty of space.

Bring a padlock: If you need to leave and come back later, you’ll need to lock your unit.

Online storage auctions are a great way to find some amazing bids without participating in a physical auction.

Legal Issues – Q and A

storage unit legal issues
Q: Do we need to check for liens or are they legally owned now by the winner of the auction?

A: Always good to know what you are buying at a distressed “as is” sale. However, it usually does not matter with vehicle and boats over 10 years old. You can do U.C.C. lien filings online in the name of the tenant if you are concerned.

[ig_divider style=”dotted”]

Q: Do the Auction rules supersede the rules of the state that the auction is being held?

A: The auction rules will supersede most state rules. State laws governing auction sales are default rules and govern when there are not auction rules (a contract) that governs the issue. For example, if the facility rules state that the sale is final when the amount bid is paid to the owner and the property is removed from the space, that rule applies.

Read More: Uplifting: Father’s Portrait Returned to Son by Auction Winner

[ig_divider style=”dotted”]

Q: If you don’t clean the room out within the time frame but instead, rent the room from the facility, can the contents still be purchased back by the original owner?

A: NO. Once the unit is paid for and possession is taken by the high bidder (especially if the unit is leased by the high bidder), the sale is completed.

[ig_divider style=”dotted”]

Q: Normally on a sale of a unit, the amount of the normal rent would be recuperated and the additional amount would go either to the tenant or to the state. What if a unit is sold but the buyer doesn’t show up in 48 hours or whatever time allotment is given. Can the operator keep the deposit and other fees and still collect the normal rent amount from the secondary bidder, or is the amount kept by the operator limited to the amount of normal rent and everything else goes to the original tenant or the state?

A: BY Bid rules, you are entitled to keep the first deposit. You are also entitled to collect the second deposit and the purchase price for the goods. If ALL monies collected exceed ALL the expenses of sale plus rent owed, the tenant is entitled to recoup the proceeds. If the tenant doesn’t recoup the proceeds some states require that the funds be paid to the state, other laws allow the operator to keep the proceeds after a period of time.

[ig_divider style=”dotted”]

Q: I bought a unit at a self-storage auction and was sued by the prior owner. I was disappointed that the Storage association did not offer help. I spent thousands in legal fees!

A: The SSA does not get involved in direct actions like you have described. But the law typically provides a direct defense when tenants make claims against the buyers of their property after foreclosure. I hope you won!

[ig_divider style=”dotted”]

Q: What if unit contains a large amount of hazardous materials that a dangerous to handle does seller assume any liability in their description of contents?

A: This is a distressed sale and you purchase the contents at your sole risk. Buyers need to be aware of this. You take the risk that the property you purchase has no value or could cost you money to dispose of legally. If you determine the space contains toxic material you could just walk away from the sale. However, you may become involved in litigation over who is responsible for legally disposing of the property. If you suspect the space has a trace of toxic materials, do not bid on it.

[ig_divider style=”dotted”]

Q: What about things like stock or bond certificates, etc.?

A: If you discover these items in an abandoned space, many time you are able to convert the abandoned certificates into your name. But it depends.

Storage Auctions vs Safe Deposit Auctions

gold bars

As a platform for storage auctions, we’re familiar with the phenomenon of abandoned items. Storage lot owners retain property left behind by delinquent tenants; in order to clear space and generate revenue, they hold auctions.

State governments also require cash flow to fund public works and institutions. Lottery tickets represent a popular business model; taxes, not so much. A lesser known approach to generating public funds bears resemblance to storage auctions. Three years after people abandon safe deposit boxes at banks and credit unions, the items are turned over to the state.

As an example, Arizona maintains an entire website devoted to unclaimed property. The site serves as a means for property owners and their heirs to find missing items. It also announces auctions where buyers can bid on remitted property.

Read More: What to Do With Important Documents Found in Storage Units

Storage Auctions vs. Safe Deposit Auctions: Which Is Better?

Comparing storage auctions to safe deposit auctions is like comparing apples to oranges. With storage containers, there’s usually an element of mystery, an exciting gamble for a prize. With safe deposit auctions, states list specific items. Obviously, they tend to be valuable by virtue of having been stored in a bank vault. People generally store different types of items in safe deposit boxes than they do in storage lockers. When you win a storage auction, you find yourself the proud owner of a large quantity of items — their quality partially or entirely unknown.

Call us crazy, but that’s part of the fun! Depending on what draws you to storage auctions, you might enjoy exploring this other avenue of bidding on abandoned items. On the other hand, you might prefer to stick with the treasure hunt that accommodates a lower budget and satisfies a thirst to search. Storage Treasures is your hub for live and online storage auctions.

Buyer Rights: What You Need to Know

what you need to know about storage auctions

When dealing with storage unit auctions, always educate yourself on the facility, buyer and seller rights. While generally the same, these rights can vary from one location to the next. Before participating in a physical or online storage auction, review all the essential clauses and information regarding that particular auction. This will help you avoid problems later on.

Continue reading