Lawmakers Bid to Halt Auctions of Self-Storage Customers’ Possessions During Pandemic

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Hundreds of New Yorkers on the brink of losing belongings kept in self-storage could find relief under a new state bill to stop auctions during the COVID-19-spurred economic crisis.

The Pandemic Self-Storage Act, proposed by two lawmakers after THE CITY’s report on looming auctions, would prohibit owners of the facilities from enforcing a lien held upon customers’ property for the duration of the state of emergency in New York, plus a year.

“Many New Yorkers have been hurting for months during COVID-19,” State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), the bill’s co-sponsor, said in a statement. “There’s no clear end in sight to the pandemic and no guarantee of federal and state relief anytime soon.”

“During this time of unprecedented upheaval across all aspects of society, nobody should move forward with the seizure and sale of people’s personal property,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-The Bronx), the other co-sponsor.

Meanwhile, City Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan) is working on legislation to limit the fees storage facilities can charge and to bring city oversight to the billion-dollar industry.

And Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-Brooklyn/Queens/Manhattan) called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to impose a statewide moratorium on the auctions, just as he has for rental housing.

“We are in an economic crisis and too many hardworking families are struggling to make ends meet. @NYGovCuomo should issue an eviction moratorium on storage units,” Velázquez wrote on Twitter. “People’s belongings should not be auctioned off like this it’s devastating.”

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Families Just Can’t Keep Up’

Self-storage is a lucrative business that is booming at a time when many New Yorkers’ living arrangements are in flux and the pandemic has wrought the city’s biggest unemployment crisis in decades.

CubeSmart, whose blue-boxed buildings are ubiquitous in some stretches of town, just moved to expand its city presence with eight new facilities in a $540 million deal, Crain’s New York Business reported.

There are currently no restrictions on the rent increases and fees — late fees, foreclosure fees, lock-cutting fees, costs for new locks — that storage facilities can charge New Yorkers. No state or city government agency oversees the sector.

“Families just can’t keep up with the payments,” Rivera said. “So we have to do something that’s a little bit smarter for a highly profitable, highly unregulated industry.”

New York would not be the first major city to place storage evictions on pause. In June, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a measure to defer payments for storage units for the duration of the city’s COVID state of emergency, plus three months.

Pasadena and Livermore, Calif., have also put off auctions due to the pandemic, according to an analysis by law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.

‘An Insurmountable Debt’

One Manhattan woman who faces a storage auction told THE CITY she’d welcome a moratorium in New York. Still, she worries that the fees will have piled high when it inevitably comes time for the companies to collect again.

“I think it’s a good idea but I just don’t know if it’s jumping from the frying pan into the fire because when these things are lifted, it’s just going to be an insurmountable amount of debt for a lot of people,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used because of the embarrassment of not being able to pay her bill.

Her belongings are currently inaccessible because she owes $463, a bill shows. Her invoice since July lists her monthly $80 occupancy charges and $12 monthly “keepsafe” charges, four $20 monthly late charges and a $15 notice-of-sale charge.

She and her husband have spent their savings, and fell behind on their rent as the pandemic dried up her work, she said. She noted she’s glad she retrieved their winter clothes from the unit in September.

She received a notice that her things — personal mementos, including her husband’s old poems — would be sold Nov. 20. She might be able to terminate the agreement and retrieve her stuff before that, she said, but is afraid to find out how much that would cost.

“Putting $100 up front for me right now is a lot of money, I just can’t float that right now,” she said. “A $1 slice of pizza at this point is a treat.”

This article originally appeared in The City on October 28, 2020

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