Tag - Storage Unit

What to Do if You Find Pornography in a Storage Unit

Pornography Bust

With the recent arrest of Tyreek Wilkerson over his discovery of child pornography in a storage unit, many auction hunters may be wondering just what they should do if they find inappropriate materials at their next auction. Pornography of all kinds – including child pornography – tends to show up in storage units pretty often. Learning what to do before you're faced with the actual issue is an important step to keeping yourself safe.


First, if you haven't been following the case, here's what happened to Wilkerson: He purchased a storage unit at an auction and discovered pornographic materials inside. Instead of turning them into the police right away, he chose to throw the materials in the trash and take other items from the unit, including cameras and lighting equipment, back to his home. This was the wrong choice, and it swiftly led to his arrest for obstructing a police investigation.


If you're ever in Wilkerson's shoes and find illegal material of any kind in a storage unit – whether it be pornography, drugs, stolen items or anything else that looks fishy – you need to report it right away. Don't even bring the items out of the unit. Instead, alert the facility manager and the police, and let the cops come check out the unit's contents before you mess with them. You never know when the items in a storage unit might be the crucial evidence in a criminal investigation, and withholding that evidence from the police is a serious offense.


In case you're wondering, this also applies to firearms. Guns are carefully regulated, and the local authorities will want to check that gun against a database to ensure it hasn't been used in any crimes and wasn't procured illegally. Treat any guns you find with caution and assume it will be confiscated; if it's not, you'll be happily surprised, but if it is, you won't be disappointed.


So that explains what to do with illegal materials, but what about regular pornography?


The first option, of course, is to throw this material away. If you're easily offended by such things, it makes sense that you wouldn't want to resell them. If you do choose to go this route, just be careful to dispose of them in a place that curious young eyes can't get hold of them, and get on with your life.


But that's not the most profitable choice. The thing about adult materials like “toys” and pornography is that it can be both difficult to sell and, at times, surprisingly lucrative. If you don't mind doing a bit of research, you might discover that you have an issue or image that holds collector's value. Even if not, many places will buy adult videos and even magazines. Call around some of the “adult” shops in your area to see if anyone is interested in buying.


If all else fails, you can also resell these items over the Internet. You can sell adult-themed items on eBay as long as they're legally obtained. There are also adult-themed websites that can be used for this purpose. If you frequent a lot of storage auctions, it might be in your best interests to get familiarized with a few adult sites or stores so you can make a bit of money from these units.


How to Efficiently Clean Out a Storage Unit

Clean Storage Unit

Cleaning storage units is one of the least enjoyable aspects of the auction-hunting business, but it's a necessary step. Failure to clean the unit within 24 to 48 hours of the purchase is a sure-fire way to get yourself un-invited from future auctions. For storage facilities, one of the primary purposes of holding a storage auction is to empty out the abandoned unit, and buyers who leave behind their trash and unwanted items are swiftly black-listed.

As important as cleaning is, you don't want to be stuck wasting time on it. Every moment you spend throwing away trash or sweeping out the unit is time you can't spend on more lucrative endeavors, like selling items or attending more auctions. By learning how to economize your time, you can get the cleaning out of the way quickly and easily.

Here are a few tips for cleaning storage units:

  • Avoid messy units. The easiest way to cut down on cleaning time is to avoid bidding on units that will take a long time to clean. Well-organized, tidy units tend to have higher-quality items in them, anyway, and you'll save yourself a lot of hassles by avoiding units that are clearly filled with trash.
  • Bring a partner. Even if you attend auctions by yourself, you should bring along a partner or two to help sort items, load them in your truck and haul trash away to the dump. If you don't have a business partner, see if you can recruit a friend or family member.
  • Have dump fees handy. No matter how careful you are with picking your storage units, you'll still find a lot of trash or unusable items. You can't use the dumpsters at the storage facility, and unauthorized dumping in any other private dumpster is illegal. If you have large items that won't fit in your own home trash can, you'll need to haul them to the landfill or recycling center – and you may need to pay a fee to leave things at the dump. Figure out how much it will be in advance so you can plan accordingly.

Having a place to store the items you wish to keep will make it easy to sort them apart from the things you'll be throwing away, recycling or donating. A little bit of organization will help make cleaning storage units an easy task.

Lindsay Lohan’s Storage Unit Goes Up for Auction

Lindsay Lohan

It's not often that the glamorous world of celebrity stardom intersects with the humbler industry of storage auctions, but auction hunters may get a rare treat soon. Lindsay Lohan, an actress whose name has become synonymous with irresponsibility, is currently in danger of losing the items in her storage locker due to delinquent payments. According to reports released on December 13, Lindsay Lohan owes $16,000 in back rent for her storage unit, which reportedly houses family heirlooms, designer clothes and other posh items. If the debt is not paid in full, the unit will go up for auction.

At the moment, Lindsay's chances of paying off the unit are looking slim. The starlet is currently in financial trouble thanks to a substantial amount of back-taxes owed to the IRS. Actor Charlie Sheen provided a $100,000 gift to help cover the costs, but that leaves a substantial amount of debt unpaid. Pleas to family and friends have yielded few results.

As a result, the IRS has frozen Lohan's assets. In addition to her delinquent storage unit payments, sources say that she is behind on her home rent as well and may be facing eviction. Of course, that's all assuming that she isn't arrested first. She's currently scheduled for a hearing on January 15 after a judge revoked her probation; she may face up to eight months in prison for parole violations.

As for the storage unit auction itself, few details are currently available. As the date of the auction nears, it will need to be announced publicly, and the unit will likely be well-advertised. Some sites have speculated that the Storage Wars crew should attend the auction in a positive PR move after the lawsuit with David Hester. After all, with a unit as full of celebrity paraphernalia as Lohan's is sure to be, the Storage Wars staff should have no need to fake anything.

Regardless of whether Storage Wars gets in on the action, Lohan's storage auction is sure to draw a substantial crowd of curious bystanders and treasure-seeking auction hunters. Since no one knows for sure what will be found in the unit, bidding is likely to get out of hand quickly. Designer clothing, jewelry or other expensive items are a given, but some eager bidders will surely be hoping for more personal effects that can be sold to tabloids for a hefty profit.

In 2006, a similar situation occurred with Paris Hilton's storage unit, and the winning bidder created a site called ParisExposed.com that charged visitors $39.97 for the chance to view the celebrity's personal belongings. Content included countless photographs, videos, financial records and diaries. Paris Hilton sued the site's owner, but much of the information posted on the site had already gone viral by that time. If Lindsay Lohan's storage unit does go up for auction, we can likely expect a repeat of this situation.

There is some hope for Lindsay, though: a New York city strip club called Scores has offered to pay off the actress's bill in exchange for some services for their company. Lindsay won't need to strip; instead, Scores is asking her to host a few live chats on their website. This would certainly bring Scores plenty of publicity, and they seem honest in their desire to pay off her storage debt and even help with rent payments. It's not clear whether Lohan will take them up on this offer or if it will even be possible if she ends up in prison this January, but it's worth keeping an eye out to see what develops.

How to Spot a Storage Unit That’s Been Lived In

living in storage unit

About 10% of the country's poor – or 1% of its total population – are believed to be homeless at any given time. For some, homelessness is temporary. For others, it becomes a long-term situation, and the economic downturn has caused a lot of people to lose their homes and jobs. This is the phenomenon behind the growing trend of people living in storage units.

A Salt Lake City storage facility was found to have at least five different units occupied by homeless people earlier this year. Manhattan Mini Storage in New York has been called “The Hobo Hilton” by some due to the number of people routinely found living in the units.

The allure of storage units for homeless people is understandable. They're secure and often climate-controlled, which makes them much more appealing than many other options available to homeless people. They're also substantially cheaper than renting an apartment. Unfortunately, storage units aren't designed for human occupancy, especially since there is no internal plumbing or running water. This leads to a health and sanitation risk for both the people living there and anyone else who comes into contact with these units.

For auction hunters, it's important to recognize the signs of a lived-in unit and avoid them whenever they come up for auction. You may run into sanitation concerns, and the original tenant could return and get combative with you while you try to clean out the unit. You're also less likely to find anything of value in these units. Here are a few signs to look out for:

  • The unit is set up like a small apartment, or there is a bed or sleeping bag on the ground
  • There may be an inordinate amount of trash, especially food wrappers
  • The unit has a particularly strong odor
  • You've seen any other signs that indicate the unit was used for something other than storage

Lived-in storage units sometimes contain human waste, drug paraphernalia and other unpleasantries, which is all the more reason to avoid these whenever you come across them. Also, if you notice any signs that a different unit is being inhabited while you're cleaning out a locker you've won, be sure to alert the management.

Ways To Avoid Losing Your Storage Unit

Storage Unit Red Lock

With so much focus on hunting for treasures, it's easy to forget about a storage unit's original tenant. Many auction hunters rent storage units themselves, though, either to store items they win or for personal reasons. Whether you're working on both sides of the industry or just keep your personal belongings in storage, it's important to take steps to protect your belongings and avoid seeing them at an auction.

Storage facilities don't like auctioning units off if they don't have to. They're in the business of storing items, not selling them, and auctions can be time-consuming and stressful for facility owners. They also generally do not profit from the sales. In most cases, the facility owner will be willing to work with renters. Here are a few tips for keeping your items out of auction if you fall behind on your payments:

  • Try to make a partial payment, even if you can't pay off everything that you owe.
  • Offer a settlement to the manager to see if you can negotiate your back rent down to a more affordable price in exchange for you immediately emptying out the unit.
  • Consider borrowing money from a friend or family member if you know you'll be late; that will keep you from paying late fees.
  • If you know you're going to be late on your rent, empty out your unit as soon as possible. Most storage facility managers will deactivate your access code and over lock your storage unit in as little as 3-5 days after the due date.

The storage facility will usually give you 60-90 days to make up your late rent before your items go up for auction. Bear in mind that you can pay off your unit at any time up until the auction has finished.

It's important to keep all of your contact information up-to-date. If the storage facility doesn't know your current address, phone number and email address, they won't be able to contact you to let you know that your unit is going up for auction. In some cases, you might not even realize that you're behind on rent unless you're notified. For example, if you pay with a credit card and the card on file is expired, you could lose the unit. Always check this information to prevent problems.

If you do lose your items, you might be able to get some of them back. If you attend the auction, you can approach the person who purchased your unit and request to get back personal items like photographs or tax documents. Many auction-hunters will be happy to give these things back to you if you're polite. Be aware, however, that they're under no obligation to do so, so there's no guarantee that you'll get your personal items back. Last but not least, find out how much the storage unit sold for. If your storage unit sold for more than what you owe in back rent and late fees, you may be entitled to a refund of the overage.

Are you about to lose your storage unit and need advice? Have you lost a storage unit or had to negotiate with a storage facility to get your stuff back? Share your story in the comments section below.

The World’s Most Famous Storage Unit And The Guy Who Bought It – An Interview With Philip “Clay” Knight

Philip “Clay” Knight

Back in August, you probably heard about the Pensacola storage unit that its former owner, a medical examiner, had left filled with body parts. Although the headline made national news, no one had stopped to get the buyer's side of the story – until now. I had the chance to talk with Philip Knight, the Florida auction hunter who was part of this grisly tale.

At 6'8” and 420 pounds, Philip – or, as his friends call him, Clay – is an imposing figure. A former sheriff's deputy and retired sergeant with the Florida Dept of corrections, Philip developed an interest in storage auctions after watching shows like American Pickers, Barter Kings and – his favorite – Auction Hunters. He's always liked buying, selling, picking and trading, and his retirement seemed like the perfect time to finally pursue those interests.

His first auction turned out to be a bust. Not to be deterred, he decided to give it a second chance, and headed 150 miles to Pensacola to try a few auctions going on there. The first auction he won was full of furniture. Philip was willing to call it a day after that, but his wife urged him to visit the next auction, at a Uncle Bob's storage facility, to see what else they could find.

After eight auctions of regular units, the facility moved to cutting the locks on two climate-controlled units. The first contained synthetic marijuana and bidding was quickly shut down. The other – although no one knew it yet – contained human remains collected by a retired medical examiner.

Of course, that's not what Philip Knight saw when he placed his bid. From the brief glance he got into the unit before the auction started, he made out several nice pieces: a glass-top table, some nice curio cabinets, a gargoyle statue and a new landmower. He placed a winning bid of $900, totaling $1,058 after fees, and set to the task of clearing the items out of the unit.

It wasn't until his wife, Lana, started sifting through the boxes that they realized something was strange about the unit. Inside the first cardboard box was a Gladware bowl containing formaldehyde and a human tongue. Other boxes contained numerous more containers filled with ears, livers and brains. Some were stored in plastic storage containers, but others were in plastic bags and even one Styrofoam cup.

Knowing that the unit had once belonged to a medical examiner, Philip suspected that the body parts might have been preserved for research purposes, but the contents of the boxes still made him uneasy. He explained the situation to the storage facility, which refunded his cleaning deposit, and he and his wife left with the items they had salvaged from the unit.

That was the last Philip heard about the situation until a friend called to ask about the story, which he had seen on the news. He was surprised to hear that the incident was a national news story. Philip has expressed his sympathy to the families who had to be notified about the discovery and who would now have bad memories attached to the situation.

“No body parts in this one, so we're good!”
Fortunately, Philip and his wife got to keep everything else they had won in the auction, so the money spent won't be going to waste. They're holding onto the merchandise for a while in case collectors take an interest in it. He's also requested that he get to keep the medical examiner's badge as a memento after the investigation is over.

I asked him whether this experience had turned him off to the storage auction business, and he said definitely not – as long as he doesn't find any more body parts! He told me that his wife dove right in to opening boxes at the next auction he won, and announced, “No body parts in this one, so we're good!” He's bought several more units since the incident, and he's enjoying his new career as a storage auction hunter.

Human Organs Found in Storage Unit

Organs Jar

Professional auction hunters are prepared to find all sorts of strange things in the units they buy at auction. Tax documents, personal mementos and various bits of trash are all very common to find. Bottles full of human organs, however, are not something most people expect to uncover when cleaning a storage unit.

Dr. Michael BerklandThat's exactly what was found in a Pensacola, Florida storage unit last week. The unit, which had once belonged to former medical examiner Dr. Michael Berkland, included crudely preserved human remains including brains, heart and lungs. They were suspended in formaldehyde and stored in unlikely containers like thirty -two ounce soda cups and plastic storage containers. The origin of these organs is unclear, but they may have come from various autopsies completed by the medical examiner during his career.

Philip KnightThe man who bought the storage unit, Phillip Knight, first discovered the items thanks to the strong smell of formaldehyde that had leaked out of some of the containers. This led him to the grisly discovery of the organs. This was the first auction that Knight had attended and only his second storage unit. Unfortunately, his induction into the storage auction business did not provide the warm welcome that many would hope for.

When you purchase a storage unit at auction, there are no refunds; no matter what's found in the unit. The gamble makes it fun and exciting for some people, but situations like this can lead to headaches and disappointments for the people buying storage units. In the case of Phillip Knight, he's out a reported $900 for the organ-filled unit.

Although finding body parts in a storage unit isn't exactly common, this isn't the first time it's ever happened. For example, another Florida auction once turned up a casket containing the remains of the owner's deceased grandmother. The casket had been stored there for 17 years. It's especially common to find the ashes of both relatives and pets that have been cremated; however, one tenant was caught storing the refrigerated body of a dog following its death. Dead dogs and cats were also found in a unit during a Savannah, Georgia auction in May of this year.

Because you never know what to expect when opening a storage unit, it's important to be prepared for anything. You will most likely find nothing this disturbing in most auctions, but there's always the possibility that you might come across something illegal, toxic or just repulsive. If you do, it's important to stay calm and alert the storage facility manager; in many cases the manager will handle the situation for you entirely. You may be required to communicate with the police as part of the investigation, but timely reporting of the incident will save you from having any legal troubles of your own for improper waste disposal or any other concerns.


Update: September 7th, 2012

Medical Examiner Arrested for Leaving Human Remains in a Storage Unit

Last month, a Pensacola, Florida man named Philip Knight bought a storage unit at auction to see if he could resell the items like the auction hunters on popular reality TV shows. After paying $900 for the unit, he opened it up to see what treasures he might find. Instead of finding valuable antiques or even regular kitchen appliances, however, Mr. Knight made a more gruesome discovery: Human limbs and organs.

The scent of formaldehyde initially tipped him off that something was not right in the unit, and he soon found dozens of plastic containers and soda cups holding crudely preserved remains from over 100 people. Among the tissues found were various body parts and organs, including human brains.

Investigation uncovered that this unit had previously belonged to Dr. Michael Berkland, a 57-year-old former medical examiner. After losing his license in Missouri for falsifying records, Dr. Berkland moved to Florida to continue his practice. There, he lost his license in Florida for not getting autopsy results in on time. He hasn't been practicing medicine since 2007 when his Florida license was revoked.

Though he was forced into retirement, none of his previous employers were aware that Dr. Berkland had been spiriting away human remains and preserving them at home. When he began storing them, he informed the storage unit's manager that he would be storing tools and furniture; after failing to pay his rent, the unit went up for auction without anyone realizing the true contents. He had kept the unit for three years prior to that and had gotten into trouble with his rent numerous times, but had always managed to pay off his balance before auction in the past.

In all, the remains found in the Pensacola storage unit were collected during a span of 10 years and belong to the patients on whom he had completed autopsies. Because there was no foul play involved, authorities initially had a difficult time determining whether they could charge Dr. Berkland with anything. Finally, he was arrested earlier this week and charged with a felony for improper storage of hazardous waste. He was also charged with the misdemeanor of “nuisance injurious to public health.” He has since been bonded out of jail and awaits trial.

If convicted, Dr. Berkland could face up to five years in state prison. At present, the family members of identified remains are being contacted to see if the organs were obtained legally and if Dr. Berkland had permission to hold them. If not, he could face more criminal charges.

What Should You Do If You Find A Gun In A Storage Unit?

Gun in Storage Unit

If you find a gun in a storage unit, there are certain procedures you must follow. First and foremost, clear it and make sure there are no unspent rounds in it. I would like reiterate that I'm not an attorney, nor do I have a FFL and that you should consult with a professional before making any decisions regarding firearms or antique weapons.

It is my understanding that if you find a firearm in a storage unit, you must turn it in to the local authorities or a Federally licensed firearm dealer. I recommend the latter because you have a better chance of getting it back.  When you turn it in, make sure you get a receipt for it because if you're a non-felon adult, they will let you have it, after a waiting period and if it has not been reported stolen or used in a crime.

Although state and local laws may vary, any gun with a frame or receiver that was actually made before January 1st, 1899 is legally antique and not considered a firearm under Federal law. This refers to the actual date of manufacture of the receiver/frame, not just the model year or patent date marked. Any gun manufactured before January 1st, 1899, other than a machine gun or other NFA category, is not controlled in any way by Federal law. There is no Federal requirement for sales of these guns to be handled by Federally licensed dealers. Although State and local laws may vary, they may be bought and sold across state lines by private parties, regardless of what cartridge they are chambered in.

Telephone the Federal Firearms Licensing Center of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms at 1-866-662-2750 for specific questions. The FFLC can help ensure your guns are properly registered.