What Happens If You Leave Stuff In a Storage Unit?

Tons of people rent storage units every year to store their extra things or to keep them safe while they travel. It's such a common thing that we don't think twice about it. But what happens to all the stuff you leave in storage?

Let us evaluate the following scenario. You don’t have enough space in your home; you have found a good self-storage unit and rented it. This is where you have stored all of your extra stuff, and you have been a good tenant. But after months or even years of paying the storage rent promptly, things start to slip, and you can no longer afford it.

Maybe your finances took a dip after a significant life event such as the end of marriage or loss of a job, or maybe you rented the storage unit with someone who can no longer pay their share of the rent.

So, what happens if you leave stuff in a storage unit? Typically, when you are late on your rent for a storage unit, you will be given a grace period of a few days to sort out the payment. If you fail to do it, late payment fees will be added to the rent amount.

If you miss a certain number of payments, the storage unit is considered abandoned. When the unit is declared abandoned, the property manager can confiscate its contents and auction them.  Many people visit storage unit auctions in the hope of finding valuable items and antiques.

If you are already struggling with paying your storage unit rent and don’t know what will happen to your items if you miss some payments, you have come to the right place.

This article discusses everything you need to know about leaving stuff in a storage unit and what happens to it.

What Should I Do If I Can Longer Pay the Storage Unit Rent?

If you have had a significant life change that has affected your finances and anticipate you will no longer be able to pay the storage fee on time, the best thing to do is move your items out of the storage unit.

An overdue mail.
Can no longer be able to pay the storage fee on time.

Talk to the property manager and let them know why you want to move out. They will provide you with proper guidelines on how you are supposed to move out, and they will even help you if you have been a good client.

In most cases, you will be required to follow the steps outlined below when moving out:

1. Notify the property manager

Everyone understands that life happens, and things change along with the same. Sometimes, you don’t always get what you had anticipated.

So, if you believe things have changed and the self-storage rent is no longer affordable, give your property manager notice of vacation. Ideally, you should provide at least a five or six-day notice before you move out.

The notice gives the property manager sufficient time to prepare the paperwork and ensure everything is in place for you to move out.

If you change your mind before the expiry of the notice, be sure to notify the property manager that you are staying and you will continue your payment for next month.

2. Don’t leave things behind

When moving out, ensure you double-check your storage space and pick up everything. If you leave items behind in the hope of collecting them later, you may be charged a clean-out fee based on the items you left behind.

Clothes being put in the box.
Ensure you double-check your storage space and pick up everything.

If you have some items that you no longer need, consider donating them to people who may want them instead of leaving them in the storage unit. Most self-storage facilities will have a donation center.

3. Tidy up

Be mindful of the condition of the self-storage unit and clean up everything before you move out. Picture how the storage unit looked like when you moved in and try to replicate the same thing when you are moving out.

Sweep the floors, clear any debris, and notify the property manager of any damage to the storage unit.

Keep in mind that if you tidy up and still lock up the unit such that it is still occupied on your renewal day, you may still be held responsible and forced to pay.

What Happens If I Leave Stuff in a Storage Unit?

Instead of moving out when they can no longer afford to pay the storage fee, some people choose to abandon their stuff in the storage unit. So, what happens when you leave your things in a storage unit?

A pile of boxes.
The storage facility will try to recover the amount you owe them.

Before we answer this question, we shall take you back to the lease agreement you signed when renting the unit. Like apartment leases, you will be expected to pay the storage fee on a specific date. There may be a grace period of a few days added, but that isn’t guaranteed.

If you want to continue using the storage unit, you must make the payments on time. So, what happens if you fail to pay the monthly rent on time?

1. Your storage unit will go into default

In most cases, what happens when you don’t pay your rent on time will be fully outlined in the lease agreement you sign. When you agree to the terms in the document, the property manager will specifically request you to take note of the point of default on your storage unit.

The grace period sets the maximum number of days you can go without clearing the storage fee before things get out of control. The grace period is usually 30 days.

Once you are in default, you will be locked out of the storage unit. The property manager will cut the lock on your unit and replace it with a red lock.

They may also post a letter on the unit’s door warning you against trying to enter the unit, which you must obey no matter how much you may be tempted to get in there to grab something.

2. The facility manager will try to contact you

The most important thing you need to know about this entire process is that no storage facility wants to auction your stuff because storage auctions aren’t profitable.

In fact, storage auctions cost the facility a lot of wasted time that could be spent maintaining the unit and serving other clients. The lien laws, which vary from state to state, also mean that a slight mistake in the auction process could result in court battles.

So, before they start the auction process, they will contact you severally. They are not just doing it because the law requires them to do so. They are doing so because they want to work with you to find an amicable solution that doesn’t involve auctioning your stuff.

A man signing a contract.
The lease agreement you signed when renting the unit is like apartment leases which you will be expected to pay the storage fee on a specific date.

The storage facility will try to contact you more than once via email, mail, or phone. Some lien laws specify how the storage facility should try to contact you.  No matter what is written in the law, the facility will try to do everything possible to reach you.

3. There is plenty of time between default and auction

A set amount of time must elapse before your stuff is put up for auction. It can be anything between 30 and 90 days. Be sure to check the lien laws of where you live to get an accurate number.

However, if you live in an area that experiences high demand for self-storage units, don’t expect your unit to stay any longer than the minimum amount of time stipulated within the law. After all, it is a business, and the owner is after profit.

The time between default and auction is crucial because it will determine whether your stuff will be auctioned or not.

Don’t let the threatening letters scare you because you are dealing with human beings. It is not uncommon for storage facility managers to strike a deal with tenants who have defaulted.

Instead of an auction, the manager may suggest setting up a payment plan or settling what you can now and paying the rest later. However, you will most likely be asked to move your items out immediately as part of the deal.

Auctioning Your Items Is the Last Resort

If the facility manager tries everything, but nothing seems to work, they will definitely take the auction route. Before the auction day, the facility must publicize when and where the auction will be taking place.

You will be sent a certified letter notifying you of the auction. The storage facility must also publish a comprehensive notice in a newspaper for two weeks.

Since you defaulted and cannot be allowed to access the storage facility, don’t attempt to attend your own auction or send someone on your behalf.

The best thing that a storage facility can do is to pass your contact information to the buyer of your items so you can potentially recover personal items such as tax documents, photos, and anything else that would potentially end up in the trash.

An auction
If they cannot recover enough money from the auction to pay the debt, you will be expected to top up the remainder.

Keep in mind that the storage facility is only trying to recover the amount you owe them. So, if they sell your items for more than what you owe them, you are entitled to the remainder.

But if the storage facility doesn’t recover enough money to cover what you owe them and you cannot pay the rest, your credit score will take a hit.


If you cannot pay your self-storage unit monthly rent, consider moving out within the grace period stipulated in your lease agreement.

If you don’t move out and default, the facility will start taking measures to recover what you owe them.

If they try to reach you and you are either unreachable or fail to cooperate, your stuff will be auctioned. If they cannot recover enough money from the auction to pay the debt, you will be expected to top up the remainder.

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