Storage Unit Auctions: What You Need to Know

Published on 9/12/2023

Storage unit auctions have gained widespread attention thanks to reality TV shows like "Storage Wars." These auctions provide a unique opportunity for treasure hunters and bargain seekers to potentially find valuable items hidden within abandoned or unpaid storage units. However, there's more to storage unit auctions than meets the eye. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into what you need to know about storage unit auctions, including how they work, the legalities involved, and tips for success.

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1. How Do Storage Unit Auctions Work?

Storage unit auctions occur when the owner of a storage facility sells the contents of a storage unit to recover unpaid rent or fees. Here's a step-by-step overview of how these auctions typically work:

Non-Payment of Rent: When a storage unit tenant fails to pay rent for a certain period (usually three months or more), the storage facility owner can legally put the unit up for auction.

Auction Announcement: The storage facility owner must notify the tenant of the impending auction, usually through written notices or public announcements. These notifications provide the tenant with a last chance to settle their debts and avoid losing their belongings.

Auction Preparation: The storage facility owner selects the units to be auctioned and arranges a date, time, and location for the auction. Some facilities hold regular auctions, while others do so only when necessary.

Public Auction: Storage unit auctions are typically public events open to anyone interested in bidding. Participants gather at the storage facility, where an auctioneer conducts the proceedings.

Bidding Process: The auctioneer opens the unit, allowing bidders a brief glimpse of its contents from the entrance. Bidders are not allowed to enter or touch the items inside. The auctioneer then starts the bidding, and participants can place bids until the highest bid wins.

Payment: If you win an auction, you must pay for the unit immediately, usually in cash or by a specified method. Be prepared for this financial commitment.

Clean-Out Period: After winning the auction, you typically have a limited time (often 24-48 hours) to empty the unit completely. You may not pick and choose items; you must remove everything.

2. Legal Considerations

Storage unit auctions involve legal obligations for both the storage facility owner and the bidders. It's crucial to be aware of these legal aspects:

Lien Laws: Storage facility owners must follow specific lien laws when conducting auctions. These laws vary by state and may dictate the notification period, auction process, and how proceeds are handled.

Tenant Rights: Tenants have rights in storage unit auctions. They should receive proper notice of the auction, and if they settle their debts before the auction date, they can reclaim their belongings.

Sold "As Is": Items purchased at storage unit auctions are typically sold "as is," meaning there are no guarantees or warranties regarding the condition or authenticity of the contents.

Legal Ownership: Once you win an auction and pay for the unit, you legally own the contents, and the previous tenant has no claim to them.

Reselling Items: While you have the right to resell the items you purchase, be aware of any potential legal restrictions, such as the sale of firearms, hazardous materials, or stolen property.

3. Tips for Success

Participating in storage unit auctions can be exciting and potentially profitable, but it's not without risks. Here are some tips to help you navigate the world of storage unit auctions successfully:

Research Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with the lien laws and regulations governing storage unit auctions in your state. Understanding the legal framework is essential.

Attend Auctions Regularly: To gain experience and increase your chances of finding valuable units, attend auctions regularly. You'll also become more adept at assessing unit contents quickly.

Set a Budget: Determine a budget for each auction and stick to it. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and overbid, so discipline is crucial.

Bring Cash: Most auctions require cash payments. Ensure you have enough cash on hand to cover potential winning bids.

Bring Tools: Having essential tools such as flashlights, gloves, and padlocks can be handy when inspecting and cleaning out units.

Arrive Early: Arriving early allows you to review the auction list and inspect units you're interested in before the bidding begins.

Assess from the Door: While you can't enter storage units, you can assess their contents from the doorway. Use your judgment and experience to make educated guesses about the potential value of items you can see.

Research Valuable Items: Learn to recognize valuable items that may be hidden within units, such as vintage furniture, collectibles, or antiques. Knowing what to look for can be a game-changer.

Manage Expectations: Not every unit will contain hidden treasures. Many will have common household items or even junk. Be prepared for disappointment and consider it part of the game.

Don't Ignore the Small Stuff: Valuable items can be hidden in boxes, under blankets, or within seemingly insignificant piles. Don't overlook smaller items that could add up.

Consider Reselling: If you're not interested in keeping the items you win, consider reselling them through online platforms like eBay, Craigslist, or at flea markets.

Be Courteous: While competition can be fierce, remember to be courteous and respectful to fellow bidders. Maintaining a good reputation can benefit you in the long run.

4. Potential Risks and Challenges

While storage unit auctions offer exciting opportunities, they also come with potential risks and challenges to consider:

Unknown Contents: You won't always know what's inside a storage unit, and you may end up with items that are damaged, unsellable, or unwanted.

Legal Issues: Be aware of the legal implications of reselling certain items, especially those that may require specific permits or licenses.

Storage Costs: After winning an auction, you'll be responsible for storage unit rental fees until you empty the unit. This can add up quickly if you're unable to quickly sell or dispose of the items.

Time and Effort: Cleaning out and reselling the contents of storage units can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. It's essential to weigh the potential rewards against the effort required.

Competition: Storage unit auctions have become increasingly popular, leading to more competition and potentially driving up prices.

Emotional Attachment: Occasionally, you may come across items with sentimental value to the previous tenant. It's crucial to handle such items with sensitivity and respect.


Storage unit auctions offer a unique and exciting opportunity to find hidden treasures and potentially profitable items. However, they also come with risks and responsibilities that should not be taken lightly. By understanding the legal aspects, following best practices, and managing your expectations, you can navigate the world of storage unit auctions successfully. Whether you're a seasoned treasure hunter or a newcomer looking for adventure, storage unit auctions can be a thrilling and potentially lucrative pursuit. Just remember to do your research, set a budget, and be prepared for the unexpected as you embark on your auction journey.

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