When Tenants Leave Items Behind

Jon Fesmire | May 22, 2017 @ 03:03 PM

Daily lock checks are important to the functioning of any self storage facility, and they can turn up some strange things. Today, we’ll look at what to do when you find an unlocked unit with items still inside.

Tenant Cancels Unit, Pays, Moves Out

One day you’re doing your lock checks and you come across a lockless unit with boxes still present. You check your records and discover that the tenant for that unit has paid in full and canceled their service. They were supposed to have moved everything out, but clearly haven’t. Do you have procedures in place to handle such a situation?

Fortunately, though this may seem like a dilemma, there are steps you can take to right the situation ethically and professionally.

First, whenever possible, when a tenant reports that they are moving out, ask them to come to the office after they have cleaned out their unit so that you can take a look at the unit with them. That way, you can make sure they have moved everything out and cleaned up. If they have chosen to leave anything behind, you can have them fill out a form saying that they have abandoned the property, and that your facility can donate it to charity or something similar.

That doesn’t always happen, in part because people forget, and in part because facilities often stay open several hours after their offices close. A tenant moving out at night may not be able to get to the office for a final check.

If, instead, you run into the situation outlined above and find an unlocked unit with items left behind, you can follow these steps.

The first call to action is this: write to and call the customer, letting them know they left something behind. It’s important to give them the opportunity to decide what to do with their possessions. We recommend actually calling, mailing, and emailing them, since one of those most likely will get the customer to respond. Ask if the customer wants to pick their items up, or if they are abandoning them. If it’s the latter, let them know they can come in to fill out a form, or that they can simply email back saying that they are abandoning the items. That word, “abandoning,” is important, as it states clearly what the customer wants and protects your facility legally.

Here’s one thing to keep in mind when any tenant rents a unit. Have them include an alternate contact. That way, if don’t hear back from the tenant, you can write to, call, and email the alternate, who, ideally, can then get the tenant to get in touch with you.

No doubt, you have a few units used by the facility itself. Until the customer responds, put their items in one. Document what they are, where you put them, and on what date. Basically, treat them like they’re special to the customer.

If they respond and say they’re abandoning the items, go through them and see what you can donate to charity. Your area probably has thrift stores or other organizations that help the poor, and those are perfect for donating books, furniture, clothing, and so on.

If the customer says they’re coming to pick the items up, arrange a time so that you can get their things back to them.

What if a customer never responds? After 90 days or so, you can get rid of things like furniture and trash, either by donating the items or throwing them away. There are some items, however, that you should keep indefinitely. Letters, birth and other legal certificates, photographs, and important-looking paperwork should go into one of your storage units.

Always document when it was put there, and whom it belongs to. If a customer says they want to abandon their items, make sure they know that such important paperwork is among their possessions, as they may have forgotten.

Tenant Leaves Lock Off Door

This situation can be confusing. You’re doing your daily lock checks, when you come to a unit without a lock. It may be full, or it may have a few items in it, but you don’t know what the tenant’s intention is, and they haven’t closed out the contract.

Put on a manager overlock, and alert the tenant right away. Tell them, “We noticed that your unit had no lock on it, and we have locked it ourselves. Please contact us and come to the office so that we can remedy this situation.”

You cannot assume the tenant moved out. John Wharton, Marketing Manager for American Classic Self Storage, says, “We have to take control of the situation and document it.”

What if, between the customer forgetting their lock and you finding the unit, someone stole items from them? Documenting details helps protect your facility.

When you speak to the customer, find out what happened. Perhaps they were in a hurry and forgot the lock. Or, perhaps they are moving out and forgot to let the office know.

Also, if the items are in the unit past what the customer paid for, let them know that they need to pay for the current month. If they tell you that they plan to move out by a certain date, you can always work with them on the payment and ask for a prorated payment. For example, if they plan to have everything moved out by the 20th of the month, have them pay for 20 days rather than the full month.

If the customer never responds, treat this as a normal abandonment situation and go into your state’s auction procedures.

There are some great things about the above procedures. First, they protect your facility in the case of legal action. Second, they show that your company cares about its tenants, even those leaving. That kind of professionalism goes a long way toward making your facility stand out.