Self Storage Legal: To Tow or Not to tow?

Posted by Scott Zucker on Sep 19, 2023 8:16:16 AM

The issue of towing at self-storage facilities must be broken down into two very separate areas. The first concerns a tenant who has a lease to store their property (a car, boat, trailer, or recreational vehicle) but has defaulted on its rent. The second is when someone has simply placed their property on the facility premises without the legal right or permission to do so.


Let’s address the first. Under the majority of self-storage state statutes around the country, if a tenant is renting a space (either enclosed or outside) and has not paid the rent, the law permits the self-storage operator to tow the vehicle in lieu of having to go through a lien foreclosure process involving a titled piece of property. The addition of the “towing” provision in self-storage lien laws has simplified the otherwise arduous process of addressing the rights of the transfer of title by the facility to any bidder or buyer at a foreclosure sale. Instead that legal transfer process is passed on to the towing company that typically is more familiar with the process as part of its everyday business. So, most state statutes (not all - check if your state is included in that list) simply allow a self-storage operator to wait sixty (60) days, send out a tow notice (which is similar to its lien sale notice), and then call a local tower to remove the vehicle (or boat) from the self-storage facility property. In other words, a simple solution to handle a defaulting tenant with a car or boat.


The second scenario is the one that most operators ignore until it is too late. What should an operator do with a vehicle (or boat) that is simply left on its property without a lease? Maybe it’s a vehicle or trailer parked in a space without a lease or, more often, parked by a tenant or visitor in the driveway of the facility or in front of rented spaces without permission of the operator (or more important, obstructing access to a space, doorway or parking area). Can the facility simply have the vehicle towed?


The answer is “yes”, but only if the facility has properly placed “Towing” signs on its property. These “No Parking/Towing” signs must comply with the notice language requirements of the state where the facility is located. Typically, these Towing signs must be within 50 feet of the area where the parking is not permitted and the signs should be a minimum of 12 inches by 18 inches. The signs should provide for the following:


A warning that unauthorized vehicles will be towed; The towing company name, address, and phone number; The towing fee and the daily storage fees and the hours of operation. The “Towing” signs should also be separate and distinct from other signs posted on the property.


Nonconsensual towing without notice could get a storage facility operator into trouble if the towed party claims lack of advance notice. To address that issue, an operator may also want to include notice of towing for unauthorized vehicles on the front gate of the facility and referenced in the facility’s written “Rules and Regulations” if such a policy form exists. Absent signage, a posting left on the vehicle’s windshield or door providing 48-to-72-hour advance notice and an opportunity to cure might be sufficient. Hopefully, if the vehicle that has been left in an authorized spot can be cross referenced to a current tenant who has left its vehicle on the property without permission, the operator can contact the tenant by phone, text or e-mail to resolve the situation before any towing takes place. 


Stay Safe and Happy Storing!