It's Called "Self" Storage for a Reason: A Response to an Auction Basher
Well, we know there are naysayers out there who love to tear down the storage auction profession based on out-of-touch judgments. Here’s a quick news story of that caliber I ran across recently that I will gladly take a moment to rebut without remorse.
The Scathing Article
The article reads as follows:
“With respect to your article “Trash or treasure? Think quick, bidders,’’ March 25, might I add the following comment?
As a humanitarian, I was repulsed to know there’s a TV show that auctions off the effects of people unable to keep up the payments on a storage stall, and to see the thrill of those lucky devils in their rapacious greed to find something valuable in somebody’s life possessions.
So, why not add another low: call it cemetery sweep. Highest bidder gets to grab a shovel and dig for dollars. Who knows what treasures can be found 6 feet below? Maybe a wedding ring or a child’s beloved toys that can be snatched away from the bones and sold as antiques? That should keep the bidding strong as the sweaty winners laugh like hell.
If nothing else, I’m proud to know that Massachusetts has a law to partially compensate the victims of these storage war crimes, and helps to keep racketeers from profiting from the misfortunes of life" (Boston.com, "Storage Auctions are Greed Profiting from Misfortune").
First and foremost let me say, I get where you're coming from. You read a generic article on how storage auctions work, shake in a little "people's champion" rhetoric, and all the sudden its easy to convince people that auction going is on par with Somalian pirate heists. Here’s the original article that the Boston.com columnist was lambasting, just for the reader's curiosity.
Reading Into the Criticism
The tone of the rebuttal article, “Storage Auctions are Greed Profiting from Misfortune,” suggests that the author has no empathy to around for the facility owner’s interests, and also, no apparent insight on the meticulous line of legality that has to be followed before a person’s things can be put up for auction. Worse, the author is assuming that it is only life’s misfortunes that cause people to leave their excess materials stowed on someone else’s property.
First, some rhetorical questions for the author.
If an unfortunate situation were fast approaching in their own life (lost job, divorced, unexpected medical bills), would they neglect to pay the measly 50-100 dollar/month fee that ensures protection to their possessions? Or, conversely, if the author knew that they would not be able to come up with the money, would they neglect to re-seize their heaps of belongings out of storage and find somewhere, anywhere, to put it? Perhaps have a sidewalk sale to make up for whatever current troubles they are in?
I think this hyperbolic columnist would, at some point, reach out to her network of friends and resources to make sure her prized possessions never end up being picked apart by “ racketeers,” as she calls auction goers. Why should we not generally expect the same of average citizens?
A Storage Lien Law Explained
Back to the meticulous line of legality, let’s examine the structure of a Florida based storage lien law, a state actually known to be more quick to the trigger than most in conducting auctions. I use it as a worse case scenario to illustrate that there is plenty of window for an individual to reclaim their goods even in the most radical legal environment.
Florida Style Self Storage Lien Laws
1. When a Florida area locker becomes delinquent, a facility owner must:
a. Send certified mail to tenants address.
b. Go out of their way to post a sign on that individual locker, stating the balance on the locker, when it fell delinquent, and a phone number/street address of owner/mailing information list for themselves to whom an overdue tenant can make a check to.
2. The tenant is then (after already being delinquent) given at least 14 days to pay the balance, if not more depending on how generous the owner is feeling.
3. The future disposition/auction is advertised for 15 days, beginning on the last day that tenant still do not show any initiative to claim their belongings.
4. Tenant has up to the beginning of the auction to swoop in with their miracle, laugh in the faces of the gathering auction goers, and fly away with their belongings like some crazed superhero.
The practicality of the process, which is easy enough for a 5th grader to understand and which is outlined in a self-storage contract, should help the author and others understand how a storage auction is a far cry from outright robbery.
In light of these dramatic revolutions on lien law procedure, I wonder if the author will listen to reason and hopefully garner a little bit of respect for hardworking storage facility owners who are simply trying to get their facility back on the market, all while trying to give their original tenants the benefit of the doubt up until “the 11th hour.”
An Abandoned Locker is Not Always Some Deep Tragedy
On a final note, it is not always “tragedy” that has arisen that leave lockers abandoned. When people decide to make hasty moves away from their hometown, the smart ones, if they care, can easily negotiate Paypal payment plans with facility owners to ensure they maintain good graces with the owners until they can come up with a way to haul off their own goods to wherever they feel best, be it in their new location or to a family member’s house for a liquidation sale. But many do not, and then want to cry injustice when they did not take the easy, necessary steps to ensure they can get their furnishings wherever they are going.
Even if a tenant is incarcerated, they still maintain the same rights to uphold their contract with a storage facility, and can either utilize work release funds to pay off their monthly bills (on top of having free rent in prison). Or, again, they can get in touch with a family member to cover the removal process or pay it until they can do it themselves.
I personally think, that of all the personal belonging auction types that are prominent, repossessed car auctions, lost flight baggage auctions, and storage unit auctions, ours is by far the most justifiable, ensuring rights and responsibilities to the tenant sometimes well beyond the point of reason.
Imagine the self-storage business with no late fees and no ultimate lien law enforcement. Hundreds of individuals could occupy an entire facility with their things and leave them their indefinitely without paying a single past-due fee. How fair would that be to an owner, who has paid an enormous overhead to run a smooth operation, only to go out of business quickly because of the negligence of their own customers?
No one is saying that there isn’t an element of tragedy to a person losing their things, but as the saying goes, “if you snooze you lose.” And in many cases in life, you get a lot less time to slumber before you lose out (read: car payments, cell phone payments, house payments).
It’s called “self-storage” for a reason. The responsibility to keep track of one’s pile of objects falls on "the self,” not the lawyers, not the owners, and certainly not the auction goers.