Storing Your Property Without Government Interest

Ever feel like the garage is just too full?  Since most California homes don’t have basements, a garage or an outdoor storage shed often becomes a homeowner’s storage facility.

But when the garage gets too full, it just might be time to look into a self-storage unit.

And apartment dwellers find that a self-storage unit might be just the thing if they’ve downsized their living space.

As with many other aspects of California living, California has a law that governs (in part) the use of self-storage facilities.  This law is known as the California Self-Service Storage Facility Act and is found at the California Business and Professions Code section 21700.  This Act doesn’t govern all aspects of self-storage unit rentals.  Instead, a key focus of the act is to provide for liens to ensure that renters pay their storage fees.  If they don’t, then the owner of the storage facility is entitled to place a “lien” on the personal property being stored at the facility.  The facility owner can even “lock out” a renter, and if the fees aren’t paid, then the stored property can be sold at public sale and the sales proceeds can be used to pay the overdue storage fees.

So what happens if a renter gets behind on their monthly storage fees and the facility owner locks the renter out?  Can the facility owner require that the renter pay the back fees before the renter can retrieve their belongings?  The answer is “yes.”  What’s more, the facility owner can continue charging monthly rental fees and late fees as provided by the lease while the renter is locked out, and if the renter doesn’t pay these additional fees, then the facility owner can continue to lock out the renter.

This principle has been considered by a California Court of Appeal. In this case, the renter got behind on her monthly payments, and the facility owner sent her a notice stating that she owed $124.75 in back rent plus $45 in late fees (at $15 per month).  The notice further stated that if the past due amounts weren’t promptly paid, then the renter’s right to use the space would end, the renter would lose access rights to the space, and the owner would impose a lien on the renter’s property. The notice further stated that the amount due would continue to increase as provided by the lease agreement until paid in full.

The renter eventually paid the facility owner $500, which was more than the amount demanded.  But by the time this $500 was paid, additional charges had accrued.  As a result, the renter still was still behind even after paying the $500.  Ultimately, the owner claimed that the fees due were $1,282.00.  Instead of paying the fees, the renter filed a lawsuit.

At trial, the renter lost and the renter filed an appeal.  On appeal, the Court of Appeal found that nothing in the California Self-Service Storage Facility Act prevented monthly rental fees and late charges from accruing even while the renter was denied access to her space.  As a result, the renter also lost on appeal.  This case is reported as Vitug v. Alameda Point Storage, Inc. (2010) 187 Cal. App. 4th 407.

Copyright 2017 ROBERT B. JACOBS