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.  

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This Car Was Hidden Away For 30 Years

hidden treasure in storage unit

The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe prototype sits in its rightful place, a museum founded by its current owner. The first of only six ever built, it was the first American manufactured car to defeat the Ferrari on its own turf, was engulfed by flames in Daytona, was driven through Los Angeles by a popular musician and then restricted to a storage unit for over 30 years. Many had believed the vehicle had been lost. Today though, over 50 years after being built it was found.

 

Created by American automotive entrepreneur, Carroll Shelby, who wanted to beat Italian designer Enzo Ferrari. He had previously done so as a driver with the Aston Martin, winning the FIA World Sportscar Championship in 1959. By 1963 Shelby had hung up his racing gear but wished to win as a constructor, and with an American Car that he created. With designer Pete Brock, hired to shape the car for maximum speed the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe was born. Two years later in 1965 Shelby took first place at the FIA – the first American to do so.

 

After years of events surrounding the car such as surviving a fire while refueling in Daytona 1964 and setting 23 national and international speed records it ended up in the hands of music producer Phil Spector. Spector chose to use the vehicle as a cruiser but wound up getting an extraordinary amount of speeding tickets, eventually being suggested by his lawyer to get rid of it. In light of this Spector decided to sell the prototype to his bodyguard, George Band, for $1000. Brand then gave the car to his daughter, Donna O’Hara, who then decided to hide it away in a California storage unit, where it remained for over 30 years.

 

Interest over time mounted around the car and O’Hara received multiple offers for it, but she always refused. With the help of a lawyer, Martin Eyears, car collector and retired neurosurgeon Frederick Simeone managed to convince O’Hara to sell him the car, for an unknown amount, but believed to be up around $4 million. In 2008, he founded the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, where the car now sits amount 65 other classic racers. It is unfortunate that a happy story also included a strong downer. After the sale of the car O’Hara willed the proceeds of the sale to her mother and then set herself on fire. This was after the deal had been done.

 

After the owner’s surprising demise a legal battle ensued around the car that lasted for months. When information that the car was discovered and was being sold to a private party, many buyers desperately pleaded to the judge to put it up for public sale. Even Phil Spector tried to reclaim ownership over the car stating he never truly sold the car to his bodyguard but simply loaned it to him for safekeeping. In the end the judge concluded that the Daytona Coupe prototype had already been sold legitimately to Simeone.

 

It’s hard to put a price on the car today, almost 15 years after the sale. The other five Daytonas – produced in Italy – are already in the hands of private collectors with one sold in 2009 for $7.5 million. It is safe to assume that Shelby’s first prototype would get significantly more due to it being the originator, the last to be in competition, and still in its original state with no replaced parts or repainting. Not too bad for a car sitting inside a storage unit for over 30 years.