Self storage operators often cite divorce as one of the main reasons people use self storage. The splitting up of a marriage also results in the dividing of things accumulated during that marriage. When this happens, the role of self storage is pretty clear. The storage unit provides a space for one partner to keep his or her things while starting life over. It’s a space—oftentimes a temporary space—for half of the assets to be kept separate.But what if two people who are already sharing a storage unit divorce?
As a self storage operator, you want to be compassionate in this situation, but you also want to avoid compromising yourself legally. And in the case of a divorce that’s fraught with tension, you definitely want to avoid ending up in the crossfire.
Here’s how to navigate this situation.
Why is this situation such a thorny one? Consider this example:
Cathy and Bob are a married couple. They rent a storage unit at your facility. Both of their names are on the lease. Both of them have keys and the code to open the gate. Some of the items in their shared storage unit are things they own together while some are things they consider separate property. Due to an affair, the couple decides to split up. The divorce is an ugly one and it gets even uglier when Bob insists that you stop allowing Cathy to access the storage unit. Meanwhile, Cathy wants Bob’s name off of the lease. Suddenly, you’re in the middle of a personal and legal battle.
The problem in the above scenario is that both Cathy and Bob have a right to enter the storage unit. Legally, it’s not your job to tell either tenant who has access.
As you can see, the situation with Cathy and Bob occured because both names were listed as tenants on the lease. If Cathy was listed as a tenant and Bob was listed as someone who was allowed access to the storage unit, the situation would be the same.
The best way to avoid this situation is to only allow one name per lease on a storage unit. Do not include a section where that tenant may grant access to someone else.
When two people who share a storage unit divorce, it’s possible that you as the self storage operator will hear from one or both of their attorneys. The attorney may try to prevent one tenant from removing belongings or may insist that an individual who does not have access to the storage unit should be granted access to it. You may even deal with an attorney who insists that it is your responsibility to prevent one of the tenants from disposing of or removing items.
If this happens, rest assured that your only legal responsibility is to the lease the tenants signed and to the court. If you’re instructed by the court to grant access to someone or be involved in how the storage unit is split, then follow that protocol. Avoid blindly following the instructions of competing attorneys.
Divorces are incredibly emotional events. Even the ones that seem amicable can bring up all kinds of jealousy and resentment. As a self storage operator, you will unfortunately see the different stages of divorce on a regular basis.
Remember that your role is to be compassionate but professional. Resist the urge to take a side, even if the divorce is between two tenants whom you have known for a number of years. Granting access to someone who shouldn’t have it or agreeing to overlock a unit could come back to bite you legally, even if it feels like the right thing to do morally. You can always consult with the tenant’s lawyer or your own legal aid. As humans, we often are struck with the urge to get involved when we see people hurting, but in this case, the best way you can help is by doing your job.