Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
Did you know that New York self-storage facilities can sell your property if you fail to pay the rent on time? What does the NY Code say you can do to halt a sale? What are your rights if the stored property has been sold? What are New York's laws on self-storage facilities?
This Article Answers 3 Questions About NY's Self-Storage Laws
- What Are New York's Laws on Self-Storage Facility Contracts?
- What Are New York's Laws on Storage Facility Liens?
- Are there Any Quirks in the New York State Laws
What Are New York's Laws on Self-Storage Facility Contracts?
Self-storage businesses in New York can specify a liability in their contracts. The liability could be per room size or a capped dollar amount beyond which the owner is not liable. This liability must be included in the occupancy agreement to be valid. The owner can charge a higher monthly fee if the person’s property is especially valuable. Owners must state up front if the contract is for one unit or multiple units.
NY's Requirements for Occupancy Agreements for Self-Storage Units
- Must be written, dated, and signed by both the owner or his agent and the occupant.
- All disclosures must have the name and address of both the owner and the occupant and the street address of the self-storage location where the property will be stored.
- New York law requires all disclosure forms to have the phone number occupants use to reach someone when they have questions about their property, fees, or notices received from the rental facility.
- Occupancy agreements must give the occupancy charge and any additional charges occupants must pay. Additional charges include both optional ones like insurance and mandatory ones like utility fees for temperature-controlled units and applicable sales taxes.
- If the valuation of the property is increased, the self-storage facility owner must send a letter to the occupant with the increased valuation, the higher monthly rate proposed, and a pre-addressed request form that the occupant can use to request the higher rate. Owners of self-storage in NYC cannot simply increase the monthly rate per a perceived increased value of the property in the storage unit.
NY Code - Section 182
- N.Y. LIEN LAW § 182 :
NY Code - Section 182: Self-service Storage Facilities and Liens
New York Laws on Storage Facility Liens
Self-storage facility owners have a lien against the property stored at the facility for current charges to date and future ones that may be accrued. While the monthly rental fee is the most common charge associated with the lien, the owner can also charge security fees, utility fees, and other reasonable fees to protect and secure the property. The lien is secured only to the property at the self-storage facility.
In NY Can the Occupant Challenge the Lien in Court?
- The lien sale can be challenged per section 7-210 of the Uniform Commercial Code.
- If the court invalidates the lien, the occupant is entitled to the property.
- If the owner establishes the validity of the lien, the sale can go forward five days after a copy of the judgment is made available.
- The occupant can pay the lien balance and redeem the property prior to the sale.
- Self-storage facilities are legally required to surrender the occupant’s property when the amount owed has been paid. Failure to do so is considered unlawful detention of goods and is a legally actionable offense. If the court finds that the occupant’s goods were subject to unlawful detention, the occupant can sue for up to three times the damages they suffered and any legal fees they have accrued.
- If you own self-storage in NYC, never hold someone’s property for ransom for money they do not owe or out of malice; it will cost you dearly.
The New York court case “Matter of Lewitin vs. Manhattan Mini Storage” confirmed that a single phone call to inform the client is insufficient. Multiple attempts must be made to reach the client must be made, including at least one certified letter.
Are There Any Quirks in New York State Law on Self-Storage?
- The state of New York requires all warehouses to have a license except for the self-storage industry. However, self-storage facilities can choose to have a license.
- Self-storage facilities should have insurance.
- A self-storage in NYC cannot contract with other self-storage facilities to assume part of the liability for an occupant’s loss. This was determined by the New York State Insurance Department, Office of General Counsel, in opinion number 11-04-03.
Questions & Answers
Question: If I purchase a storage unit at auction, what do I have to return to the previous owner?
Answer: Assuming we're not talking about a service member who has extra protections when their items are in storage, you probably are not required to return things (in most states). It would be considerate to return personal documents, jewelry, and other items. If you're not sure of the legality, you can contact the unclaimed property of your office and hand it to them.
Question: How can it be legal to charge me pre-lien fees?
Answer: A pre-lien fee is the start of the legal fees due for them having to take possession of the unit for non-payment.
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Question: How is it legal to be to charged insurance on my tiny rental?
Answer: The self-storage company can require you to have property insurance of some kind. What they cannot do is force you to buy it through them. They have to let you get insurance for the value of the contents through a third party.
Question: I’m being charged insurance, pre-lien fees and less than 30 day late fees - is this legal?
Answer: If you are late paying the monthly bill, late fees are always reasonable. Insurance is something they can mandate, just as a landlord may require tenants to have renter's insurance.
Question: What is the correct procedure for advertising a self-storage unit for sale?
Answer: If you own the items in the unit, you can put up a general classified offering the items for sale. If you're essentially foreclosing on the property, you need to research the required rules for your jurisdiction on trying to notify the owner, give them proper time to respond, and then hold the sale.
Question: Does New York State / City limit the amount of late fees assessed for late payments. For example, is it lawful to charge a $35 late fee on a unit costing $130 per month - That is nearly a 26% fee?
Answer: I found a proposed NY bill to limit late fees to 20% but it did not pass. The general laws are that they have to provide a list of all fees due, a description of the property being seized and sold if you don't pay late fees, and information on the sale of property if you don't pay the late fees on time. The other major requirement is that the date by which you must pay the bill each month, bill amount and late fee amounts are listed in the contract you sign.
Question: Can the self-storage rental company give me a huge rent increase?
Answer: The answer is: it depends on your contract. They may be able to increase the rental rate of your storage unit if the contract says they can. If you owe late fees or have other charges, they may increase the monthly rent to offset what you owe. They certainly can raise the rent if you had a low introductory rate and now that teaser time frame is over.
Question: Can a storage unit owner keep personal items that were in storage unit for themselves, or are they required to sell items at auction?
Answer: They are supposed to sell the items at auction to raise money to pay off the debt, the money you haven't paid in storage fees.
Question: What action can we take if a tenant is not paying for the storage fee for their unit?
Answer: Depending on the contract, the state you're in and laws like those giving service members more time before you can foreclose and sell their property, you can eventually empty out the unit for nonpayment. Whether you throw out the items, donate them or auction them off depends on you. And you can sell the unpaid debt to a debt collector to get it off your books and end the business relationship.
Question: Do I have to give my Social Security Number to a storage facility?
Answer: No, they shouldn't need it unless you're racking up hundreds of dollars a month in fees. They have the fallback of selling your stuff if you don't pay the bill. They shouldn't need an SSN to pursue unpaid balances.
Question: I was charged a $50 preliminary lien fee. Is that legal?
Answer: Yes. The lien is a legal document they have to file and pay to get. The lien is what secures the property for the debt you owe. And that is the basis of selling your property to get back the money you owe. Pay the lien fee and your debt, or you could lose what is in storage.
Question: Can a self-storage facility in Manhattan decide to "undertake extensive construction", forcing people, including elderly, handicapped people at risk, to "vacate immediately"?
Answer: If we were talking about residential property, the answer is a clear no. They couldn't force you to relocate from an apartment when there is a freeze on evictions unless damage made the unit uninhabitable. For example, if the building suffered a flood or fire so bad it is not legally habitable, they would have to relocate you or help you move immediately.
If the self-storage facility had similar damage, they could argue that. Or they may say we have so much damage we can't protect your property, we recommend you come get it.
I don't think they could argue, "We want to change the doors, gates and aesthetic stuff, move." After all, there are still limits on travel and business. It is probably illegal to ask you to move your stuff when you may not be allowed to drive over, pick things up, and rent at a different facility. Given the Wuhan coronavirus shutdown restrictions, you could legally fight that if you live somewhere still under a near-total shutdown - like Michigan or New York. In this case, do talk to an attorney.
Question: How old do you need to be to rent a storage unit in NY?
Answer: The storage company contract that requires you to pay the monthly bill or have property auctioned off is a contract. They can't let you sign if you're under 18 because of that.
Question: Is a landlord responsible first month storage cost when LL has been found guilty of an illegal lockout?
Answer: If the landlord is actually found guilty of an illegal lockout, they are generally liable for all damages. That will include the value of property they threw out, the value of damaged property, and probably all storage fees.
Question: If a person is two weeks late paying the rental fee, is the storage facility allowed to place their own lock on the unit blocking the person from entering the space. Wondering if there is a 30 day rule, like month to month apartment leases?
Answer: The rules would be spelled out in the contract. No, you don't have the same rights as a tenant in an apartment because the rental has shorter time frames and limiting access to stuff in storage is obviously less restrictive than "you can't get any of your clothes/medicine/food".
Question: Is a self-storage facility in NY responsible for damage to renter property if they are negligent?
Answer: It depends on the damage and what you consider negligence. If it flooded, probably not. If they didn't prevent theft and you had a lock on it, maybe.
Question: My storage company sold to another company. The new ownership raised my rent $23.00 and are forcing me to pay them an additional $11.00 per month for insurance. Can they do this?
Answer: They may have to raise rents to cover costs. You have to pay it if you signed a contract or want to renew your contract. I don't know about the legality of requiring you to have insurance.
Question: Is a newspaper ad advertising the sale of the contents of a storage unit considered a classified ad or a legal ad?
Answer: If they're advertising the sale of items at auction, it's a classified ad.