Several months ago, while watching an episode of the popular reality TV show “Storage Wars,” New York state Sen. Tony Avella decided he needed to do more for self-storage tenants in his state. And so, on Jan. 8, he introduced Senate Bill 6201. The legislation seeks to provide “greater protection to the occupants of self-service storage facilities by strengthening the notice requirement in relation to the lien sale.”
The bill would update the lien enforcement section of current state law to require that two lien notifications—instead of one—be sent to the tenant as well as to an “alternative person” designated on the rental agreement. It also would give tenants 30 days to respond after receiving the second notification. Now, operators can move forward with a lien sale, or storage auction, 10 days after sending out a single notice.
According to Avella, the bill—which is opposed by the national and New York self-storage associations—would help protect consumers from mistakes that can take place during the lien notification process.
The Storage Facilitator recently caught up with Avella to discuss the bill, and its importance to both self-storage tenants and owners. Avella is a Democrat from Queens who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City.
In your own words, describe Senate Bill 6201 and why you think it’s important for self-storage consumers.
I’ve watched a number of episodes of shows like “Storage Wars” and other auction shows, and they sparked my interest in what types of protections are in place for someone who puts his or her personal items into a storage unit, making sure those items are not improperly sold off. Because when you see some of these auctions on TV and some of the valuables that get sold, it raises a very important question: Why would anyone let this unit go when its contents are clearly more valuable than the overdue rent on the unit?
So I had my legislative staff look into existing legislation covering storage units and realized that it’s insufficient. We need to do a better job of giving self-storage tenants more time to contest possible lien sales, and more thorough notification that they are overdue on their rent and that their contents may be sold.
When thinking about shows like “Storage Wars,” do any particular examples come to mind?
I was actually watching the show this past weekend and someone bought a unit that contained artwork worth $300,000. Now, why would someone let that go? It raises a few questions: Could the self-storage owner not get in touch with the tenant? Did the tenant perhaps die and the rest of his family didn’t know about it? My bill just strengthens the process of notification and makes sure the consumer is protected.
The death of a tenant does raise an interesting point. Do you think that’s one of the reasons some of these units go unpaid?
Well, I don’t know how often that happens, but it’s definitely a possibility. What happens if someone renting a unit passes away? How would the estate know about this? My bill would include a mandatory provision on all rental agreements to include another contact so that if the owner can’t get hold of the person renting the unit, there is another contact they can make. Because if someone dies and the contents go to an estate—which could be children or a spouse—the estate may not know about this rental unit.
Why do you feel it’s important to make sure tenants receive two lien notifications instead of one? And why do you think it’s important for these notifications to also be sent to an alternative person in addition to the tenant?
I read a recent newspaper article about an instance where the show wasn’t taping and they found something like $250,000 worth of gold in a unit. Well, it’s hard for someone to say that the tenant didn’t know the value of that gold. So why would he just leave it there? Aside from the gold being stolen, the only other scenario that makes sense is that they weren’t notified. Or suppose they moved and forgot to change their address.
So I started going through these scenarios and realized that what exists in current legislation just isn’t enough. I’m not attacking the industry here, but we need to do a better job of regulating it so people’s rights are protected.
Why the increase of a 30-day response to notification from the current 10 days?
You get a notice delivered to your house by mail. You may be working. You may not have the money to get an attorney to contest it. If you need to contest it yourself, you may need to do some research on the legal process. Or maybe you’re on vacation and by the time you come back, the 10 days have already passed. Ten days just isn’t enough time for someone to respond to what is basically a legal procedure.
What reaction have you received from consumers and self-storage operators in your state regarding this bill?
I only recently introduced the bill, and we’re just in the beginning of our legislative session, which is almost entirely consumed with the budget. So I haven’t had an opportunity to deeply promote it just yet. I did meet with an industry spokesperson who said that they’re trying to get self-storage companies to voluntarily adopt these rules. And I’m glad to hear that, but the key word is voluntarily. We need this across the board.
In terms of the average consumer, they may not get involved in supporting this bill unless something bad happens to them. But I’m trying to be proactive on this, rather than wait for someone to come along and say they got ripped off.
Why do you think this bill has gotten such stiff opposition from both the New York and national self-storage associations?
When they met with me—and I can’t recall if it was someone from the national or state association—they said the industry already has voluntarily regulations and felt this bill wasn’t necessary. But I hear that all the time from every industry.
If the association representing these companies already suggests the same rules I’m trying to put into law, why not make it a standard that everyone has to follow it? When I hear that they are voluntarily suggesting, it that seems like they don’t really want to enforce their own standards.
What, if any, benefit would this bill have for the industry?
First of all, it ensures that the consumer has more protection against their items being sold off at auction. But I also think, from an industry perspective, somewhere down the line there will be a situation where someone’s unit is sold and someone will come forward and say, “Wait, I wasn’t notified.” And that will result in some big story in the media, and then there will be a real concern for the industry.
I’m just waiting for the day someone sees their items being sold on one of these TV shows. And then you have huge, negative media attention. So why not work with me and prevent that situation from occurring in the first place?