What to do When Tenants Abandon Cremains

Krista Diamond |

It’s a shockingly common problem among self storage operators. A tenant abandons their storage unit and leaves behind cremains. The term cremains—if you’re fortunate enough to not be familiar with it—refers to the cremated remains of a deceased person. They end up in storage units for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they were handed down through generations of a family until they ended up with someone who had no room for them. Maybe they were being kept safe during a move.

Whatever the reason, when a storage unit is abandoned or seized due to unpaid rent, cremains are often all that remains. So what do you do as a self storage operator? It feels wrong to throw them out and you certainly can’t auction them off.

Here are the steps you can take:

Attempt Contact with the Tenant

Your first step is to try to contact the tenant. Assuming you have up to date contact information (and this is a certainly a good—albeit macabre—reminder that it’s important to keep tenant contact info current), reach out to the tenant. No matter how much rent the tenant might owe you, it’s still your responsibility to return the cremains to them if possible.

If the Tenant Can’t be Reached

If you’re dealing with an abandoned storage unit, odds are the tenant won’t be interested in returning your calls. Now you’re stuck with a stranger’s cremains. What do you do?

Before you do anything, know that you can’t legally spread ashes that don’t belong to you. As much as the idea of finding a nice beach or meadow to spread the ashes onto sounds, don’t do it. If the tenant reemerges and wants the cremains back, you’ll be in legal trouble.

You have two options here. First, you can find a clergyman who will do it for you at a cemetery. If you’re not able to find a clergyman to do this, you only have one other option (fair warning: you’re not going to like it). You’re going to have to hang onto the cremains, whether it’s in your office or in a storage unit that the facility uses.

Why You Shouldn’t Let Tenants Store Cremains

It’s impossible to monitor every single thing tenants put into their storage units, but trying to set some standards is your best defense against situations like the abandoned cremains dilemma. You likely already have language in your lease forbidding tenants from storing living things, but it might be time to add non-living entities to that section, or more specifically, cremains.

In addition to the extra work involved in legally and ethically dealing with abandoned cremains, human ashes also present a problem in self storage due to the fact that it’s impossible to put a value on them. This complicates self storage insurance and value limits on leases.

Finding cremains in an abandoned storage unit is an unpleasant thing, but it’s a circumstance that many self storage operators have found themselves in, so if it happens to you, take comfort in knowing others have been there before. Handle the situation legally and with dignity and move on with your day.