Storage Auction Rules


In the following article, we will elaborate on the rules that are common at most storage unit auctions throughout the United States. Storage auction rules and laws vary by state, storage facility and auctioneer, so please consult with a professional in your area before relying on the following information. The official rules will usually be given out prior to each auction. It is the buyer's obligation to familiarize themselves with federal, state and local laws relating to the purchase, transportation and possession of their merchandise.

Bidder registration. Please arrive at the storage facility 10-15 minutes early to allow yourself enough time to register and get familiar with the rules. Once you arrive, go into the rental office and sign in. Each person who wants bid must register and obtain a bidder number from the storage facility or auctioneer before the auction begins. If you fail to register and you win a unit, the auctioneer or storage facility reserves the right to sell the unit to the next highest bidder. Your bidder number will usually be next to your name on the sign in sheet. If you buy a storage unit, you will need this number, so it is a good idea to remember it. Some storage facilities and auctioneers will have you sign an acknowledgment of the rules, while others will announce the rules verbally. The terms and conditions may vary from one auction location to the next.

There is no fee to register for an auction. When you register, you will be asked to provide your name, address, phone number and your tax exempt status. At some auctions, you will be asked for valid identification, although this is rare. Rest assured, the storage facility is not allowed to give out your personal information, so you don't have to worry about the former owner contacting you to get their stuff back.

Some auctioneers and storage facilities will have several auctions occurring on the same day. Some auctioneers and storage facilities will require you to sign in at every location, while others only require you to sign in once for the entire day. Please speak with your auctioneer or storage facility manager to confirm their policy.

Storage facility owners, managers and employees are eligible to participate in the bidding process, although most do not, in fear of a conflict of interest.

Payment. If you win a storage unit, you must report to the rental office at the conclusion of the sale. Full payment must be made before you can remove any merchandise from the storage unit. You will be required to pay the bid amount, sales tax (unless exempt) and the security deposit at that location before moving on to the next facility. Cash is the primary method of payment at storage auctions, although some storage facilities do accept debit and credit cards. Checks are almost never accepted. Please speak with the storage facility manager about the accepted methods of payment prior to placing a bid.

Once you arrive in the rental office, the auctioneer or storage facility manager will be processing the payments of the winning bidders. Usually, only one transaction is processed at a time, so there may be a line. If you are tax exempt and the auctioneer or storage facility doesn't already have your resale tax number on file, please have your resale certificate ready for them so that they can make a copy. Once they accept your payment, you will be issued a receipt and a temporary access code to the storage facility.

Please make sure you have enough cash on your person to cover your bid. The auctioneer doesn't have time to wait for you to go to the bank or ATM because they must move on to the next location. If you decide to go to an ATM after the auction, you do so at your own risk. If you you're not back before the auctioneer or storage facility manager has finished processing the other winning bidders, they reserve the right to terminate your bid and resell your unit to the next highest bidder.

Sales tax. Sales tax must be paid unless no tax is due. If you have a lawful exemption, a valid resale tax number on file with the comptroller's office or if you are purchasing a vehicle, trailer, recreational vehicle or boat, sales tax will not be charged. If you are tax exempt, the auctioneer or storage facility will have you fill out a tax exempt form which is then kept on file. All other buyers must pay sales tax on the amount of each winning bid.

Announcements. Any announcement made the day of the sale, prior to or during the auction, will supersede any other announcement or advertising. The auctioneer or storage facility manager reserves the right to reject any bid, place a minimum bid, revoke bidding privileges or cancel the sale completely. They may also sell the units in their entirety, in lots or item by item.

Age minimum. Buyers must be over the age of 18 to bid. Some storage facilities do not allow children, so it is a good idea to call the storage facility in advance if you need to bring them with you. When children are permitted, they must be supervised at all times.

Inspection. During inspection process, the auctioneer or storage facility manager will remove the lock and raise or open the door. Everyone will have an equal opportunity to inspect the contents of the unit from the doorway. Please do not go inside the unit or touch any items. If you are seen doing so, the auctioneer or storage facility manager reserves the right to refuse your bid and/or ask you to leave the auction. Once everyone has had a fair amount of time to inspect the unit, the auctioneer or storage facility manager will open up the bidding.

All items are sold “as is.” Please examine the storage unit thoroughly before placing a bid, because once the auctioneer or storage facility manager says sold, you have bought the unit. All storage units are sold “as is” and without warranties, representations or guarantees. All sales are final.

Securing the unit. If you win the unit, you must immediately place your own lock on it. If you do not have a lock, you can usually purchase one in the rental office. The storage facility is not responsible for the contents of the unit after it has been sold.

Cleaning out the unit. Most storage facilities allow you 24-48 hours to remove all of the contents and sweep the unit clean. Every now and then, you will come across an auction that requires the winning bidder to remove the contents on the same day, although this is rare. The auctioneer or storage facility manager will announce how much time you have before the auction begins. If you need additional time, most storage facility managers are willing to work with you as long as you keep them informed. You also have the option of renting the unit, which allows you to take your time.

If you fail to clean out a unit, it can have severe consequences like losing your security deposit or being banned from future auctions at that storage facility. If the auctioneer hears that you failed to clean out a unit, you could be banned from all of his or her future auctions.

The storage facility's dumpster may not be used by buyers without the permission of the facility manager.

Cleaning deposit. Most storage facilities require you to pay a cleaning deposit on every unit you purchase. These deposits usually range from $40-100 and are fully refundable if the unit is cleaned properly within the designated time. The purpose of the cleaning deposit is to prevent people from purchasing a unit, removing all of the valuables and leaving the unwanted items and trash behind.

Once you are finished cleaning out the unit, please stop by the rental office and let the employee on duty know. The employee will inspect the unit to verify that all of the contents have been removed and that it has been swept out. If the unit has been cleaned out properly, the employee will return your security deposit.

Personal items. If you find personal items inside of the unit, please leave them with the property manager so they can return them to the tenant. Personal items include photographs, identification, tax and legal documents, birth, death and marriage certificates, diplomas and items with sentimental value.

Common courtesy. Please be civil toward the auctioneer, storage facility employees and other bidders. Anyone that is disruptive or causes an altercation will be asked to leave and could be barred from attending future auctions.

35 CommentsLeave a comment

    • Jimmie,

      Sales tax use permits are not required but, if you plan on reselling the merchandise, having one will allow you to avoid paying sales tax when you purchase the unit. You will still need to collect or pay sales tax on everything you sell.

    • Tami,

      Storage facilities usually require a security deposit in order to prevent storage auction buyers from taking what they want and leaving the trash behind. The storage facility is in the rental business and their main goal is to free up the space so they can rent it again. Some inexperienced buyers still choose to forfeit the security deposit and leave the trash behind. In cases like this, the storage facility will use the security deposit to pay someone to remove anything remaining in the unit and ban the buyer from attending future auctions.

  • I have a friend that had a unit she owned auctioned off because she lost her job and couldn’t pay the rental. Is there anyway she or I can find out who won her unit? She had many sentimental family items, such as pictures and the like. She would like to see if it would be possible to get those back or if they went to a thrift store, buy them back?


    • Randy, yes there is a way, but there are no guarantees. In most cases, photos, important documents and items that are obviously sentimental are left with the facility manager; however, if the buyer was in a hurry, they may not have had time to sort through things at the storage facility. Contact the facility manager and ask if anything has been turned in by the buyer. If not, explain the situation and ask the facility manager to contact the buyer to see if they would be interested in selling the family items back to her. Most storage auction buyers are decent people and would be willing to work something out.

  • I did not abandon my unit. When I could not pay, I moved everything possible out of the unit. We could not move my husband’s hospital bed that he needs. It was too heavy. The other items left were the trash and donations. Since I did not have access, I did not get to see any postings on the unit. How can they sell medical equipment? eqipmen

  • I purchased a storage back in March. Today I received a call from the tenant that own the unit saying they are in legal suit with the storage facility and wanted to ask me some questions. I contacted the storage facility asking whats going on and why they gave out my phone. One person there said the tenant was going through a divorce and the owner said the tenant was going through bankruptcy. What are my legal rights if I get dragged into a legal battle.

  • Please someone help me! I just lost ALL of my PERSONAL ITEMS in storage in Houston, TX – irreplacable Family Photos, Boxes of Birthday Cards from my DAD who has Lung Cancer. These items are of NO value to the new owner of my storage unit AND he REFUSES to give them back. Is there anything that I can do? Please help!

    • Stephanie,

      It’s at the buyer’s discretion whether they want to return these items to you. Your best bet is to contact the storage facility manager and ask him or her to contact the buyer and request the return of your personal items. Unfortunately, if the buyer is unwilling to, there isn’t anything that can be done.

  • Hello. I purchased the contents of a storage unit at a legal auction several years ago. The storage manager gave my name and address to the former owners, who have sued me. The former owners acknowledge that they did not pay their storage bills, and the facility acknowledges that they should not have given out my name. I thought that purchasers had full legal title and ownership rights for good purchased at a storage auction. Is this incorrect?

    • Bambi,

      You should be able to get this case thrown out. Under Sec. 59.007 of the Texas Property Code, a good faith purchaser of property sold to satisfy a lien under this chapter takes the property free of a claim by a person against whom the lien was valid, regardless of whether the lessor has complied with this chapter.

      In layman’s terms, you won’t be held responsible for a storage facility’s mistake. Hope you can breathe a little easier now.

    • Once the storage facility has made several unsuccessful attempts to contact the tenant for payment, they will cut the lock and usually inventory the contents of the storage unit based on what they can see from the door. When storage facilities post their notice of auction, they generally provide a brief description of the unit’s contents. This is a requirement in Texas under Chapter 59 of the Texas Property Code, and other states have similar laws.

      Most of the time, the facility owners/managers will take a brief glance inside and write a vague description like “furniture and appliances” based on what they can see from the door. Very rarely do they ever move things or open boxes. On the other hand, some facilities will set up or “stage” units to make them more enticing for buyers. They may rearrange the contents to show off some of the pricier items inside or move items to clear or obstruct the view. Should you be worried about this? Not really.

      First of all, most of your larger chain facilities have district managers who inventory the contents of each unit. Some auctioneers even inventory the contents of the unit for the storage facility as well. This means that there’s a lot of eyes that might oversee a unit, so if items go missing, someone will likely notice. Staging units or removing items also takes a lot of time, and most facility managers are too busy to bother. When you’re dealing with a big chain storage facility, the owners are often quite wealthy and have no motive to waste that much time for a small amount of money.

      Second, storage facilities have more security cameras than a Vegas casino. Fear of losing their job or being prosecuted play an important factor in keeping most workers honest. I think the number one reason most workers don’t tamper with units or remove items is that they don’t know if the delinquent tenant will come in right before the auction and get current on their payments. The tenant has until the moment bidding starts to pay off the lien. If the worker had removed some items from the unit, and the tenant notices, they could get in a lot of trouble. For storage facilities, the risk just isn’t worth the reward.

      The storage facility managers and owners I’ve dealt with are very honest and respectable people. I’m sure there are a few bad apples, as there is in any business, but these cases are quite rare. For the most part, storage facilities are much more interested in selling the units they have at a reasonable price so they can get them cleaned and rented out quickly.

  • I found an acetylene tank in a unit I got at auction. I was going to sell it but found out it had belonged to a rental agency. Am I required to return this to the rental agency or is it legally mine now?

  • I need some help . I am using a new online website to bid on storage units I won the auction and got charged by the website there fee (15% buyer premium) + a deposit of 10% of the bid amount till I got to the facility and paid the remaing amount. Then imediatly after I get an email that the auction was canceled even though they took partial payment. From my understanding once there is payment on the unit that property should be mine . I guess my question is can they do that ? Please Help

    • Unfortunately, they probably have something in their “Terms Of Use” that allows them to; however, under auction law, once you’ve paid for a unit and have a receipt, it’s legally yours.

  • Do you know if it is against the law in Florida to take stuff out of a storage unit before it has been sold by the workers

    • Here in Texas, I’ve seen several facilities move the contents out to give bidders a better view of what they’re buying. It’s an unusual procedure that requires a lot of work, so you don’t see it often, but it does happen. I’m not aware of anything in Texas lien law that would prevent them from doing so. I haven’t read Florida lien law, so I can’t say for sure one way or another; however, many state lien laws are similar to one another.

        • Storage facilities can avoid legal problems and see an increase in lien sale turnouts by hiring a licensed auctioneer. Although using an auctioneer is recommended, it isn’t required in the state of Texas.

  • Hello, is there any law that would impede a family member or friend of the previous tenant from bidding and buying their unit at auction? Can a facility turn you down for it?

    • No, that’s perfectly legal. As a matter of fact, there’s no law preventing the tenant from attending the “Public Sale.” The unit is legally his/hers until the auctioneer says “sold,” so if you strategy is to try to buy it back for less than what he/she owes, it’s possible. However, if the bidding exceeds the amount owed, the tenant can legally stop the sale before it’s sold and pay the delinquent rent and fees.

  • can I legally be barred from attending auction at a public storage facility on my unit and what am I forbidden under Texas law to bid on it?

  • Thanks for explaining the rules that are common to most storage unit auctions and for mentioning how they can vary by state, facility, and auctioneer. Since this is the case, it would probably be a good idea to contact the company in charge beforehand in order to make sure you understand the rules. You could also look online to learn about the different public storage unit auctions as well as the company in charge so that you can make sure they’re reliable and so you know what to expect.

    • Good question Dawn. The short answer is YES. It may seem like a conflict of interest, or at very least unfair, but to my knowledge there are no specific laws which prevent an owner, manager or employee from bidding on a storage unit up for auction at their own facility, especially when a licensed auctioneer is involved.

      I used to attend a storage auction where the owner of the facility “cherry picked” the nice units. None of us really liked it, but we had to tolerate it if we wanted to attend his auction. Luckily, he had an affinity for for industrial items & tools. I was looking for high end furniture or “theme units,” so we rarely clashed.

      (I am not an attorney and this is my opinion. Consult a legal professional before relying on any of this information.)

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