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Storage Wars

Posted on September 3rd, 2013

The Concordian • SEPTEMBER 2013

I think we all know by now that there are storage units out there that potentially contain zillions of dollars’ worth of property, and that there are people perfectly willing to be televised when bidding on the contents of those units when the owners get behind on the rent. I want to briefly talk about the actual procedures a storage unit company has to go through before calling TLC to get the cameras rolling.
Self-storage units are subject to the California Self-Service Storage Facility Act which governs what happens to your property if you fail to pay your monthly rent. (Business and Professions Code Section 21700 et seq.) The Act encompasses public storage facilities, but does not include garages, storage areas in a private residence or warehouses. So you’re free to keep that pair of rollerblades in mom’s garage forever under these statutes.

The contract a renter signs for a self-service storage unit must include the amount of any late fees and state that your property will be subject to a sale to satisfy unpaid rent after 14 consecutive days, among other provisions. If the renter falls 14 days behind in their payments, the storage-unit owner may send a Preliminary Lien Notice (“PLN”) which can terminate the right to use the storage unit. If the delinquent rent hasn’t been paid 14 days after the termination date stated in the PLN, the lien attaches to the property and the storage unit owner may deny the renter access to the unit, enter the unit and/or remove the renter’s property for safe-keeping and inform the renter that the property will be sold at auction after at least 14 days have passed.

When sending out the notice that the lien has attached, the owner must also provide a Declaration in Opposition to the Lien Sale which the renter can complete and return to the owner to stop the sale. If a Declaration in Opposition to the Lien Sale is returned prior to the sale date, the owner can’t sell the property and must file a lawsuit to force the sale of the property and collect on their lien. If the renter does not return the declaration and doesn’t pay the outstanding amounts, the self-storage unit can call TLC and get the cameras rolling on another pile of invaluable artifacts for Storage Wars.

If a lien sale occurs, the renter may claim any money from the sale in excess of the lien amount and the costs of sale at any time within one year of the sale date. If the storage facility wrongfully sells property without going through the statutory process, the renter can sue for conversion (for the value of the lost property) and possibly recover emotional distress damages.

There are the basic ins-and-outs of this process and this is not an exhaustive list of the laws associated with the termination of a self-storage unit lease. If you need the assistance of counsel, the attorneys at Ericksen Arbuthnot are here to help. I can be reached at 510-834-7770, or jmauck@ericksenarbuthnot.com.