The ABC's of Storage Auction Dirty Deeds (Part 1 of 2)

Snidely WhiplashOften, where there’s a lot of cold, hard cash changing hands, there is going to be trouble.  And although trouble can be interesting, getting ripped off in a storage auction scam by the facility owner, the former tenant, the auctioneer, or some combination of all of them, is just plain sickening.  But it does happen on occasion.

When facility owners are given legal access to a person’s belongings knowing full well that they have checked out for awhile, either due to traveling around or just plain inability to pay, the urge to cherry pick or rig a unit sometimes takes over.  We are going to discuss some tell-tale signs of storage auction mischief, how to avoid it, and what retaliatory measures you will have as a hunter to make sure you are getting a face value crack at units in their original condition.

Lock Cutting: Does it Even Matter When it Happens?

Experts in this field say, that on TV, the locks are cut at the auction not to somehow signify that no one has been in the unit since the owner, but because the welding spark trail is eye candy.  Otherwise, if you really think about it, even if they are "cutting" the lock, in reality and on auction day, what is to guarantee a you that it's the original lock anyway?  Numerous stories have circulated about hunters finding discarded locks inside the unit they have just won.  The lien laws for your state will dictate if it the original lock, depending on whether or not they require a facility owner to enter and take notes themselves.

the jokerSince in most states, it is part of the self-storage lien law process for a facility owner to list the contents of a locker in a public classifieds, unless it is a state where a “contents list,” initially provided by the original tenant when they "moved in,” is deemed adequate for a public notice, then facility owners will be cutting off personal locks early and entering inside.  When they do, they are not supposed to really be touching anything, but simply take an eyeball inventory for an obligatory legal posting in a local newspaper.

Most states self-storage legislations mention that there needs to be posted a “brief and general description” of a unit’s contents, ideally gathered by a facility owner  from the perspective of a future bidder: from the outside.  Sadly, this is sometimes not the case, and the facility owners are getting frisky with people’s belongings for personal gain, or staging units to jack up bids for personal gain.

Know that ninety percent of the time, a facility owner has been granted access to the unit and that there are other measures you will have to take to ensure you have not been duped into a “cherry picked” or re-merchandised locker.


We’ve compared this business to performing detective work before.  With this shady aspect of auction hunting, its going to take a little more than just The Magic Eye for the New Guy.  Here’s a list of what you can watch out for before you can hone the…dirty eye for the jaded guy?


A. From Dust it Came, and To Dust it Shall Return...

If there is a visible pattern of dust around the unit and that pattern looks disturbed only on select items or in select areas, then there is a good likelihood that things have been shifted, rummaged, or “re-merchandized” recently.  If the facility owner was just doing his job of getting a “general description” of the most outstanding contents within, then why should the poor dust have been so harassed?


B.The K-Mart Locker: Re-Merchandised Appearance

If a facility owner stands to make money by performing an auction (although, often times the delinquent rent they have accrued is so outrageous they hardly do) and they have pretty much unbridled access to a past-due locker, then once and a while you will see a unit that looks like the electronics section of Wal-Mart.  An abandoned, untouched locker will have a consistent appearance: consistently messy or consistently neat.  Look for patterns of items that seem staged, things that are more valuable than the rest and conveniently angled for your viewing pleasure.

Also, be leery of the stray flat screen TV or power tool halfway out of a box.  Why would an owner ever leave their TV hanging halfway out of the box?  Not because they had to go run and watch their favorite show, obviously.


C. The Owner/Tennant Present and Bidding on Their Unit

Montgomery Burns of the Simpson'sThe original tenant (i.e. the person who’s stuff is being auctioned off) will probably not have a sign around their neck that says “HEY, LAY OFF MY STUFF!” (nor look like Dr. Evil, for that matter) but word travels fast, and occasionally, an owner arrives too late to pay off their delinquent rent and has to stand with the others and ashamedly trying to win their goods back.

There exists a scam whereby a "brilliant" criminal intentionally defaults on a locker which they have staged with weighed down flat screen TV boxes and the like.  Then, they profit by taking advantage of their state’s lien sales laws which guarantee the original tenant  the surplus cash from an auction (after the total amount of delinquent rent, and fees to pay auctioneers) in order to make up for “their loss,” which is nothing but gain since they have put nothing of worth inside.

I would recommend staying out of auctions where you know the owner is present, period, for this and other more sentimental reasons.


Whew.  All of this dirtiness has sullied my soul, but believe me, the list goes on.  Read "Part II" on Wednesday to get some more tidbits on how to evade lockers that are not what they seem, as well as some legal recourse you may have should you fall victim to larceny or collusion, despite employing all preventative measures.

Maybe we'll go to Omega with this stuff!


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