Storage Unit Auctions Make for Entertaining Television, But What’s The Law Behind The Lien?

August 11, 2011

Storage Wars” is a popular television show on the A & E cable network. The show follows a regular group of bidders who purchase storage units in an auction format in hopes of finding valuable items they can turn into a profit.  These units come up for sale based on the owner of the units goods failing to pay their bill or abandoning their property. Due to the buzz generated by the show, and other shows like it, this exciting form of “gambling” is growing in popularity.

After watching a few episodes, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for the original owner of these storage unit items. It’s often evident that these items have sentimental value or are possibly family heirlooms. Check out this article from the Great Falls Tribune that tells the story of these auctions and the reality of how profitable they can be.

The brother of a friend of mine recently got into this game. As it turns out,  the original owner of the goods in the storage unit he purchased found out his name and where he lived. The owner was angry that he would not return her items and began to lurk around their neighborhood and elsewhere. She threatened to sue him on multiple occasions. This got me thinking about the legal aspects of this interesting way to earn an income.

The first search I ran was simple plain language search in WestlawNext to peruse the secondary sources that came up.

Plain Language Search: storage unit lien

The first secondary source that comes up is 93 C.J.S. Warehousemen and Safe Depositories § 107. This provides a good overview of a Warehousemen lien.  It’s a great starting off point.

After doing some research, it seems that most, if not every state,  has a statute pertaining to this type of lien.

Try this general search in your state to see what kind of cases, statutes or secondary sources might assist should a client walk through your door with this type of quandary.

self-storage mini-storage warehous! /10 lien

When I ran this in WestlawNext with Texas as my jurisdiction,  I immediately found 2 cases that were on point as well as a statute section on “Conduct of Sale” in the Chapter for Self-Service Storage Facility Liens. After clicking into that statute, you can click on the “Table of Contents” link to see the other statutes around this one.

This method should work for you in any jurisdiction to get a good footing on this topic.