Some self-storage contracts spell out terms in plain language while others might leave you utterly confused. It’s smart to brush up on lease agreements before you sign on the dotted line.
“If a manager is doing his or her job, there shouldn’t be any surprises,” said Kelly Epps, property manager at Pioneer Stor & Lok in Columbus, GA, who said she sits down with customers to make sure they understand their lease agreements.
Still, it’s ultimately your responsibility to understand any paperwork you sign.
Here’s a guide to what you should know about self-storage contracts and legalese. Every self-storage rental agreement is different, as terms may vary depending on the laws of the state where the facility is located. All contracts will cover these four key areas:
Every contract for storage space will outline the monthly payment due. It will also describe how payments shall be accepted, such as by check, credit card or online. The contract should include all of the following:
- How much you owe for rent: The contract will outline the amount of your rent, your payment due date and the amount of your security deposit.
- What happens if you pay late or don’t pay: The contract should tell you when a payment is considered late and what the late fee is. Also, it’s important to understand what happens if you stop paying rent, said Ginny Sutton, executive director of the Texas Self Storage Association. “That should be clearly spelled out,” she said.
- Other fees: Facilities also should list any additional fees you will, or might, be charged. For example, the Pioneer Stor & Lok contract states that there’s a $25 lock-cut fee if the customer loses a key or the manager has to get into a unit to seize the belongings of a tenant who stopped paying rent. The facility also charges a $50 auction fee when it auctions off a tenant’s belongings to recover money owed, Epps said.
2. Use of Your Unit
Every storage facility has its rules, and every contract should spell out exactly what a lessee can do or not do with their storage unit. The contract will also describe what happens if a renter breaks those rules, which would typically be an additional charge or possible eviction.
- What you can store: Self-storage units are meant for storing ordinary household belongings—things like furniture, books and dishes. Therefore, contracts typically list prohibited stored items that are not allowed such as garbage, toxic waste or flammable liquids. “Storing anything that could explode or otherwise cause damage to the property is strictly prohibited,” Sutton said. Also, most contracts limit the value of what you’re allowed to keep in the unit; the limit in the Texas Self Storage Association’s standard contract is $5,000.
- Cleanliness: Most contracts will require you to keep the unit clean and in good condition. If you store a vehicle there, you might have to use a drip pan to keep oil and other fluids from staining the floor. And the contract usually outlines the condition you must leave the unit in when you move out. For example, the Pioneer Stor & Lok lease agreement requires customers to leave the unit empty and to sweep it out with a broom, Epps said.
3. Giving Notice
Virtually all self-storage contracts are month-to-month, however your contract might renew for another if you don’t call to give notice by a certain date each month. Make note of such timelines when planning to move items out of your unit. There might also be other occasions when you need to give notice to the storage facility, such as if you have moved to a new address or changed your phone number.
- Change of address: A contract might specify that you need to notify the facility of a change of address or telephone number. Facilities need your current information so they can contact you in the event of an emergency or if there was a problem with your payment.
- When you leave: A contract should cover the move-out process, including how much notice you must give the landlord.
4. What the Landlord Can Do
Self-storage agreements are a two-way street. Just as a renter as certain rights and responsibilities, so does the storage facility. There are certain things they can and cannot do, and those rules should be described clearly in the contract.
- Entering your unit: A contract should specify situations when a landlord may enter your unit—for example, to make a repair, Sutton said.
- Locking you out: The contract should tell you under what circumstances a landlord can lock you out of your unit, and how you can regain access, Sutton said.
Example Self-Storage Contract Template
If you want an idea of what a self-storage contract is supposed to look like, check out this blank self-storage rental agreement PDF. This template is for example purposes only and may not be valid in all states. State law may vary slightly when it comes to the rules that govern self-storage contracts.
Self-Storage Contracts and Legalese
Here’s some legal jargon you might encounter in a self-storage contract and what the terms mean in plain language:
- Lien on personal property: A lien means that if you don’t pay your bill, the facility owner can hold your stored property and eventually sell it at a storage auction, said Jeffrey Greenberger, an attorney who practices self-storage law in Cincinnati. Self-storage liens are governed by laws in almost every state.
- Release of liability waiver: Most contracts require you to agree to a waiver that says the landlord is not responsible if your belongings are damaged or if you are hurt at the facility. “Releases of liability apply to negligence—for example, if a mouse got into your unit and chewed up your couch or you slammed a door on your hand, but they don’t apply to intentional conduct—for example, if a facility manager threw your stuff out in the rain or punched you in the face”, Greenberger said.
- Indemnification: This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in self-storage contracts, Greenberger said. It means that if the tenant does something that results in a claim against the facility, the tenant or their insurance company will defend the facility and pay any judgment against it. “Let’s say a plumber picks up some toilets from his unit, backs up his van, and hits and kills another tenant, Mrs. Smith. The Smith family probably will sue the plumber and the self-storage facility”, Greenberger said. Under indemnification, the plumber’s insurance company would settle both claims.
- Breach: A breach is a violation of any terms of the contract. “A typical breach is failure to pay rent,” Kaslow said. Another could be living in a storage unit, which is expressly forbidden
- Exclusion of warranties: “In a general sense, it means look at your storage unit because what you see is what you get,” Kaslow said. By adding this clause, a facility owner says there’s no guarantee that the storage unit is fit for whatever purpose a customer might decide to use it. If someone wants to store leftover Girl Scout cookies, for example, he or she must look at the unit, ask questions and decide whether it’s a suitable space for that use. “If it gets to be 80 degrees in the unit, maybe it’s not a good place to store last year’s Thin Mints,” Greenberger said.