Reader Question: Getting Your Stuff Back From a Storage Auction

Today’s question comes to us from Phil, who has experienced storage auctions from the wrong side: Phil had his belongings sold to satisfy his delinquent rental bill and now wants to know how one goes about getting his personal belongings back. Unfortunately the storage sale process is a much different story when you’re on the wrong side of it. It can be disheartening, embarrassing and downright enraging to have your things sold via public mini storage auction. It can be far worse if you’re actually there to see it happen. I know that Phil is not the only one who has wondered about what they can do when it comes to trying to recover your sold belongings. Phil asks:

[quote] Hello. I just had my storage locker go to sale and lost everything inside. Including my tools which I need for work and some personal paperwork that was very important for my legal cases and getting custody of my children. I asked the company why they sold those too and they said that they don’t go through the units befor selling them they just make sure to transfer the lock and then it goes to auction. What can I do to get my things back? [/quote]

Hello, Phil. I’m very sorry to hear of your misfortune, and that the auction process could not be avoided for your locker. I know it can be very difficult to lose your belongings, especially when they are of personal and sentimental value, or needed for work, like your tools. Unfortunately, in your case there is not very much you can do proactively in terms of recovering your tools because they are of value to others and they were inside your delinquent locker. However, I can tell you that there is an understanding and tradition, an expectation even, between storage companies and the auction unit buyers that all items of purely personal value should be returned to the original owner of the unit.

For example, if a buyer gets a 10×30 unit and empties it entirely, they are entitled to keep all the objects that are of obvious and general commercial value and interest. Televisions, electronics in general, tools, even clothes and books are all fair game. However, should they come across a family photo album, for instance, or a box full of family documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc, they are expected to return these immediately to the original owner, or to the property manager if they cannot contact the tenant. The company should then call the original owner in order to give them their personal / sentimental belongings back.

So, although you’ll have to let go of all your tools and equipment, you should hopefully be able to get your paperwork back. If you have not yet been contacted by the unit’s buyer, you could ask the property manager to get in touch with them for you. How helpful they will ultimately be will depend on their comfort level, their company policies and their relationship with you, but hopefully this will get the ball rolling and at least get your contact information to the buyer so they can do the right thing and return your papers.