How To Handle Rental Storage Unit Evictions
June 12, 2023
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A Guide To The Storage Unit Eviction Process
All landlords, regardless of the type of property they own, have the right to terminate the lease agreement of a renter who violates it. The same applies to self-storage facility owners.
When one of your storage renters stops paying rent or breaks a rule in the lease, it’s important to take action immediately. Continuing to tolerate behavior in violation of the lease can cause your renters to lose respect for you and your facility, which almost always leads to further trouble.
While the laws governing the removal of self-storage tenants vary by state, the process is generally similar across the U.S. In this article, we break down the steps involved in the rental storage unit eviction process.
Step 1: Determine the Lease Violation
Before eviction is on the table, you must first determine whether the lease violation warrants eviction. Identify a concrete violation of the lease that the tenant signed and agreed to uphold during the term.
Common, justifiable reasons for storage unit evictions include:
- Damage to the storage unit or other renters’ belongings
- Aggressive/hostile behavior towards staff or other renters
- Attempting to live in the storage unit
- Using the storage unit to conduct illegal activity
Identifying the lease violation (and the corresponding lease clause) will become crucial should you need to go to court to remove the tenant.
Step 2: Send a Lease Termination Notice
After verifying that the violation does indeed justify termination, you’ll need to send the tenant an appropriate lease termination notice.
Since most storage unit leases are month-to-month, you can usually provide notice to terminate before the beginning of the next lease term. If your state’s laws don’t specify the number of days’ notice you’re required to give, you’ll need to follow whatever guidelines you included in the lease (e.g., if 30 days’ notice is required, you’ll have to wait one full lease cycle before terminating the lease).
In the notice itself, state the provision of the lease that the tenant is violating and that they must move out their belongings by the deadline (i.e., the end of the current term). In clear language, explain what will happen if the tenant does not vacate the unit (e.g., the landlord will file for eviction, their property could be sold at a public auction, etc.).
Step 3A: Sell/Auction the Tenants’ Belongings (For Nonpayment)
There are two possible paths you can take next, after sending proper notice. For leases terminated due to nonpayment, the auction process can begin; for other circumstances, you’ll need to actually file an eviction lawsuit with the court.
Let’s talk about the first scenario. If a tenant is delinquent on rent and you’ve sent the proper notice, you can usually sell the tenant’s belongings in a self storage unit sale to cover their rent. To begin this process, you must have a clause in your lease that states that the owner can claim a storage lien on the tenant’s belongings if they do not pay rent. A lien is a claim on the renter’s personal property you make to satisfy their rent debt. By including this clause in your lease and following your state’s legal lien procedures, you have the right to sell tenant belongings at a public auction to cover the cost of unpaid rent. Any remaining funds can either be claimed by the tenant or sent to a state or local agency.
Self storage unit auctions are recognized in most states as alternatives to suing the tenant for unpaid rent in court. However, caution is required: since auction sales are a “self-help” remedy for owners (they don’t involve the courts), the responsibility is on you to carefully follow the laws and regulations. If you break them (for example, not waiting the appropriate number of days before selling the personal property in a storage unit), the tenant could sue you by claiming that you managed the sale improperly.
Step 3B: File an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court (For Other Circumstances)
There are several circumstances in which filing for eviction rather than selling the tenant’s belongings is a better (or only) way to terminate the lease. These reasons include:
- The tenant is still paying rent but violated another lease term, and they won’t leave after notice of lease termination
- The tenant will likely file a counterclaim to your lawsuit if you move their belongings.
- Your state requires a long period of continuous default before lien rights are granted, so the eviction process might be faster
- Serving the tenant proper notice of the lease’s termination is impossible because you don’t have their current mailing address
- Your state’s laws do not guarantee landlords lien rights for nonpaying tenants
These reasons are not an exclusive list, but they are the most common reasons owners choose to go to court to remove a self-storage renter.
The actual self-storage eviction process works in much the same way as a traditional eviction. First, you’ll need to go to a local court (usually a district court) with a copy of the lease agreement, the lease termination notice, and an explanation of the tenant’s violation. You’ll file a formal complaint with the clerk, who will issue a summons to court for the tenant. Once served the summons, the tenant must attend the court hearing with you on a specified date, at which a judge will, if you’ve followed all the necessary procedures, grant an order to remove the tenants’ belongings.
Step 4: Receive a Court Order to Enter and Empty the Unit
Once the court has issued a judgment in your favor, the tenant is now “at sufferance”. This means they are occupying the unit without your consent, and their belongings can therefore be removed from the storage unit.
In a typical residential eviction, only the sheriff can forcibly remove a tenant from the rental unit (landlords are not allowed to do this themselves). For self-storage unit evictions, the sheriff will only need to forcibly remove the tenant if they are living in the storage unit as if it were a residential unit. Since living in a storage unit is strictly prohibited by law, it’s important to provide an eviction notice as soon as you notice a tenant is doing so and officially file for eviction if they do not move out.
Evictions can be lengthy and expensive, which is why many self-storage owners consider them a last resort after negotiating with a problematic tenant. However, removing tenants who are causing issues at your facility is ultimately the best thing you can do for yourself, your facility, and your other tenants.