As odd as these stories have become, the solution to the type of tenants that seem to spend an inordinate amount of time at self-storage facilities, either in their closed unit or hanging out in the facility office, is the same: It’s time to notify those tenants that their days of loitering at the facility are over.
No matter how uncomfortable it may be to deal with these tenants who think it’s their right to spend their days at a facility when they rent a unit, storage operators must take the initiative to notify these tenants that their leases are not being renewed, that their leases are ending at the end of their current monthly term, and that they must vacate the facility, unit, and premises.
Certainly, it’s not the typical plan of a facility operator to terminate the lease of a paying tenant. At the same time, it’s not the typical plan of an operator to spend their day being interrupted by a tenant who likes to linger in the office or on the facility premises, making the site manager, as well as current and prospective tenants, uncomfortable with that tenant’s awkward presence, appearance, or behavior. Accordingly, the best way to resolve that issue, as well as the legal way to accomplish the intended result, is to notify the tenant in writing that the lease is not being renewed, that the lease is terminating, and that the unit must be vacated by the effective date of the termination.
Can a facility operator terminate a tenant’s lease like this? Absolutely! In fact, since a self-storage lease is a month-to-month tenancy and, more importantly, since the lease involves only the right to store personal property (and not the right of habitation), a self-storage operator does not even need a reason for such lease terminations. The law gives very little value to the rights of a tenant who has only been given a 30-day right of use under a lease with a mutual right of termination (the tenant can terminate at any time without providing a reason as well). Essentially, the law assumes that a tenant renting a self-storage unit can simply re-locate to another facility if asked to leave its current facility and that the tenant assumes this risk of termination when he/she chooses to accept such a short-term lease. Therefore, tenants who seek to challenge a lease termination may succeed by delaying the inevitable if they sue to stop the termination, but, at the end of the day, no court will require a self-storage facility to keep a tenant who they otherwise wish to leave their premises, as long as the act of termination is not discriminatory. And, even if a discriminatory intent is discovered, the tenant may have a right to collect damages for the alleged act, but no court will allow such a tenant the right to remain indefinitely on the self-storage premises.
So, what is a self-storage manager to do when a creepy tenant dude will not vacate his unit and/or premises after their lease term ends? First, it is important for the facility to be very diligent in NOT accepting future monthly rent from that tenant, else the termination notice will be voided by the facility’s acceptance of the next month’s rent. Therefore, if there are online methods of payment permitted, they should be restricted. Second, assuming no payments are accepted, and the tenant becomes a “holdover” tenant without consent (or, in other words, a “tenant at sufferance”), the facility operator can then file an eviction or unlawful detainer action seeking the assistance of the court in ordering the tenant to leave the premises. Finally, if the tenant does not comply with the court’s order, the court would then have the right to issue a “writ of possession” directing the sheriff or marshal, who is given authority to handle these matters, to oversee the removal of the property from the storage unit to a location of public access where the evicted tenant can access their discarded property before it is ultimately removed and disposed of by the authorities.
The termination of a lease is not a welcome process, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. In response to a survey, managers who faced this type of “creepy tenant dude” on their properties were, more often than not, uncomfortable reporting this to the facility, sometimes out of the annoyance factor but sometimes out of fear or apprehension for their safety. In such a case, it is an operator’s obligation to defer to its employees to have the problem removed from the workplace. Terminating a tenant’s lease is the easiest and best solution to situations where the tenant has outstayed his/her welcome.
Scott Zucker is a partner in the law firm of Weissmann Zucker Euster Morochnik & Garber, P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia.