How Self Storage Auctions Work

by Kurt Novak

You may have heard from friends who go to self storage auctions to buy collectibles, antiques and other items for next to nothing. Self storage facilities schedule auctions on a regular basis, to sell property of storage customers that fell behind on rental payments or abandon their property.

The law allows the operator of a self storage facility to put a lien on all property stored in the facility. If a tenant does not pay his rent the storage facility will schedule an auction to get rid of the personal property and recover some or all of the money owed by the tenant.

Self storage auctions are usually announced in a local newspaper of general circulation. In Columbus the paper of choice for all kinds of auctions is the Daily Reporter – the legal newspaper of Central Ohio.

Self storage auctions have to be advertised for 2 weeks before the actual auction takes place.

At the day of the auction interested buyers gather at the facility. First, you will have to sign in on a bidders sheet. Most self storage facilities require a cash deposit of $25. You can get the deposit refunded when you emptied the unit you purchased or, if you don’t purchase anything.

All payments have to be made in cash. The amounts are rather small, so cash is not a big issue.

Next, the storage units that will be auctioned off are opened by the auctioneer or the manager of the facility. You are not allowed to enter. You can only assess the value by looking at the content from the outside.

Then the auction starts and the auctioneer will ask for bids. Typically, self storage auctions are absolute auctions. This means that there is no reserve or minimum bid. However, the facility may deny any bids which they deem too low or unreasonable.

Just like with any auction the highest bidder wins the content of the storage unit. The winning bidder has to pay cash and must remove the contents of the unit the same day.

Some self storage facilities require that you sign a lease agreement after you win a bid. This allows them to charge rent, if you don’t remove everything on the day of the auction. Other facilities simply use your deposit to secure that you will empty the unit.

Self storage rooms can be a true treasure coves. People leave all kinds of antiques and collectibles in a facility. Sometimes they simply don’t want to deal with their belongings or don’t have a place to put them, so they decide to abandon the property.

On the other hand, you may find a lot of trash in a self storage unit. Be prepared to dump the stuff you don’t need. Most of the time you will find the little treasures that get you excited, and you can either sell them on Ebay or Craigslist and make a nice profit. Or just keep those collectibles for yourself.

Thanks for reading the Columbus Storage Blog

Feel free to contact Kurt Novak

Phone (614) 395-7375


About the Author

Kurt is an experienced real estate entrepreneur and self storage investor. Connect with Kurt on LinkedIn.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

mary November 14, 2010 at 3:11 pm

how can i find out where they are at i am interested in going to one

westbelt November 14, 2010 at 4:57 pm

There are 3 ways to find out when and where auctions are:

  • Check your local newspaper, especially the legal paper in your county. Auctions have to be advertised for 2 weeks in a paper of general circulation in your county.
  • Search for auctions on Craigslist
  • Call self storage faciliities near you directly

Self storage facilities use auctions to get rid of personal property of tenants that don’t pay. It is a last resort to recover money owed by a delinquent tenant. They are usually not happening every single month.

bill December 27, 2010 at 8:11 pm

any upcoming storage units contents in auction in central ohio?email billy

Matt January 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Do the storage facility owners open the units and remove any expensive items before the auction? I’ve heard that this is a common practice at some places.

Matt January 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm

One more quick question… can you bid on individual items or do you have to bid on the entire contents of a given unit?

westbelt January 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm

These are 2 good questions.
1. You cannot bid on individual items. You buy the contents of the whole unit and it is your responsibility to remove everything.
2. Storage facilities typically open the units just before the auction. We DO NOT go through the units and remove valuable items before the auction. I am sure most other reputable facilities do the same.

StorageAuctions.TV March 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm

You’ve done a great job at describing how the auction process works.

My website http://StorageAuctions.TV list storage auctions all over the US and Canada.

There is never a fee to search for storage auctions or post upcoming auctions.

Jeff September 9, 2011 at 8:21 pm

If a storage unit has a vehicle in it that sells at auction, How do you get the title switched over? Thanks!

westbelt September 11, 2011 at 8:31 am

Transferring the title of a vehicle abandoned in a storage locker is a little bit tricky. It applies to automobiles, trailers, and any vehicle that’s licensed. It’s probably different in every state.

Here in Franklin County, OH, the storage facility has to apply for the title at the Clerk of Court’s Auto Title agency. Dependent on the value of the vehicle it may require a court order.
Here’s more information from the Franklin County Clerk of Courts:

Lisha November 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I’m thinking about starting with the Auctions after watching Storage Wars and Auction Hunters! Do we need a licence to sell stuff we get in a unit? thank you!!

westbelt November 12, 2011 at 6:47 pm

If you are getting into a serious auction business, you may need to get a vendors license. It dependent on the state in which you do business. Contact the Secretary of State, they usually provide help for starting a business.

greg February 7, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Just curious, I was reading that charitable organizations, could go in and take items out of a storage unit after being auctioned to the highest bidder. Is this true? thanks G

westbelt February 8, 2012 at 10:22 am

I never heard of that. Once a unit has been auctioned off, the content belongs to the highest bidder. I don’t know how anyone could go in and take items out of it.
Thanks for the question, though. Maybe another reader can answer it?

George April 28, 2012 at 8:54 am

Hello; I live in Marion, Ohio and when a storage unit auction is put in the paper they list the name of the person and everything in the unit. So I assume they go through them and take out anything worth having. That’s why I never go to them here.

Kurt Novak April 29, 2012 at 9:47 am


Thanks for your question.

When storage unit auctions are advertised in the paper, the person renting the unit must be identified by law. The ad is supposed to notify the delinquent tenant that they will lose their belongings, if they don’t pay up.

However, the tenant cannot go through the unit and take stuff out, because the unit is over-locked by the storage facility. The tenant can’t get to their belongings until they pay up.

Donna September 30, 2012 at 8:00 am

As George implied, and I too have seen it, when I lived in Dayton and now in Central Ohio, is the potential for storage facility personnel to take out valuables, since it is quite obvious they have already been inside the unit, when the storage facility lists all (allegedly) the items in each storage unit up at auction – not referring to notice to tenants, but actual action notice. In Dayton, when notices were published of the auction date and location, once efforts to get tenants to pay their delinquency failed, the contents of each storage unit up for auction is listed, proving storage personnel have already been inside and done an inventory. So what is to stop storage facility personnel from taking valuables out and leaving less valuable items for bidders?
About 20 yrs ago, I had items in storage at a U-Haul which required purchasing their lock, therefore giving employees access to every storage unit! I was one of many victims of having items stolen and was not even delinquent! One of the staff with a conscience led me to a room to recover a large mirror I had purchased more than 10 yrs earlier and you should have seen all the items they had in that room! I called the corporate office and of course the facility staff lied their way out of it and corporate took their side. So I am skeptical of auctions where items are already listed, which seems to be often. Aren’t there any laws to keep storage facility staff from such practices?

philip barger May 21, 2017 at 6:18 am

we are looking to sell and or auction many items from several locations (storage facility,attic,basement,garages,etc). Items simply too numerous to mention. do you know of anyone that would transport these items from various locations (all within 10 minutes from downtown Columbus) to a site where items could be sold.Do not think garage sale or tag sale would work. any suggestions? Thanks Phil

Kurt Novak May 24, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Sorry, I don’t have a good suggestion for what you want to do. May look for auction companies and ask, if they could handle it.

Mark Yankovic July 21, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Does the storage unit manager have to use an auction company, or are they allowed to have the auction in-house?

Jerry Donohue November 22, 2019 at 11:17 am

Just head to for auctions all over Ohio!

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