Riding the wave of two popular TV programs about auctioning off the contents of unclaimed storage lockers (“Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters”), Mouse Print* reader Tony P. recently found himself in a storage war of his own.
Back in 2004, Tony stored nearly 40 years of household goods in a five-foot by 10-foot storage room in New York. He paid about $125 a month to the storage company, now known as Storage Deluxe, LLC. To make sure he didn’t forget a payment, and risk having his goods auctioned off as they do on these TV shows, he had his credit card automatically charged every month.
In August 2009, Tony went to the storage facility and tried to get into his locker. To his horror, he discovered that all his stuff had been removed, and either sold or discarded. When he confronted the company, they said “someone” had come in during December 2008, and had signed a form closing down the unit. The signature was not Tony’s. And it appears that this mystery person never unloaded the locker, but rather the company did, without any notification to Tony. All his stuff was gone.
Tony went to court, suing the storage company for some $80,000 in losses, $21,000 of which he could document with receipts, claiming breach of contract, gross negligence, and violation of New York’s storage law. The judge issued his decision just a couple of weeks ago, ruling mostly against Tony, and relying on fine print in the original contract:
The judge took this clause to mean that the storage facility was only liable for up to $5000 since the renter was not allowed to store anything of greater value in the locker without permission. And since the minimum amount his court had jurisdiction over was $15,000, the judge kicked the case back to a lower district court.
With all due respect to this judge, this clause said nothing about the storage company being liable or not liable for losses of only a certain amount. (And another New York court apparently previously had struck down this clause as an impermissible limitation on liability.)
So Tony is left without his stuff, but has lawyer bills that will eat up most of the $5000 if he decides to settle with the storage company. He has just decided not to appeal the decision, upon the advice of several lawyers.