boxed out

Unclaimed Self-Storage Funds Give Glimpse Into New Yorkers’ Disrupted Lives

A Manhattan Mini Storage center was visible from the High Line at 23rd Street, Jan. 25, 2019.
A Manhattan Mini Storage center was visible from the High Line at 23rd Street, Jan. 25, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

More than $1 million of New Yorkers’ unclaimed self-storage auction proceeds are sitting around waiting to be picked up, according to the State Comptroller’s Office — and that’s just from two of the major companies.

Self-storage facilities famously sell off belongings to the highest bidder when people fail to pay rent on their units.

Across the five boroughs, small rooms filled with clothes, furniture, and personal documents go up for auction every few weeks. In East New York, an abandoned storage space with a mattress and unlabeled boxes recently sold for $10. At a Long Island City facility, a unit filled with furniture and possible antiques went for $2,900.

That money is supposed to go to pay off what the unit renter owed the facility — and when there is money left over, it is supposed to go back to the renter.

Do you have unclaimed funds in your name? Check here.

But hundreds of thousands of dollars registered with the state from two of the city’s biggest names in the market, Public Storage and Edison Properties, which owns Manhattan Mini-Storage,  are unclaimed, state records show.

From 2009 to 2018, Edison registered $1,055,457 in unclaimed funds, with only $199,322 recovered so far. Some could be from Edison’s other businesses, noted Manhattan Mini-Storage President Adam Steckler, though most is probably from storage, he said. Public Storage piled up $1,372,121 since 2003, and $548,938 has been claimed.

“Every intention is made to rightfully return the funds to the customer. However, perhaps because storage customers are often in transition and their address on file does not get updated by the customer, funds may end up in the escheatment process,” Steckler wrote in an email.

A storage center at the corner of Atlantic and Washington avenues in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
A storage center at the corner of Atlantic and Washington avenues in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“I recommend all residents check for unclaimed funds — not just from storage companies, but from any business that may own them funds,” he added. “A simple name search on the NY Comptroller site can identify funds people may be owed. I also recommend all customers make sure their address is kept up to date at all times.”

A search for payments from the third major self-storage company, CubeSmart, did not come up with any results, the state comptroller’s office said. Funds may have been issued under other business names. CubeSmart did not reply to requests for comment to explain.

There are more than 13 million square feet of self-storage in New York City, according to THE CITY’s analysis of Department of Planning records.

Have your stored belongings been sold at auction? Tell us what happened!

Self-storage companies hold liens on the stuff people store in their facilities. When customers miss payments, the process of auctioning off their things begins.

“Some people don’t want their stuff, some people want more time, but everything is legal, so there’s nothing to — there’s deadlines for everything,” one self-storage employee in Queens who asked not to be identified told THE CITY. “So if your stuff is being auctioned today and you’re saying that you’re going to come next week to pay — well, the auction was today.”

Another worker said the auctioning of personal items like family pictures can be “a sad thing.”

“If it has sentimental value, sometimes the buyers actually leave it behind, such as pictures, documentations, things like that, they’ll leave it behind,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t.”

The bidders, many of whom resell items from storage at flea markets, said they give documents such as birth certificates back to storage facilities to return to owners. But customers may have less luck retrieving other sentimental items.

“Teddy bears?” said Elliott Blitman, a Brooklyn furniture dealer attending an auction in Long Island City. “People throw ‘em out.”

Have you lost stuff? Let us know: rgoldensohn@thecity.nyc or text/Whatsapp/Signal 646-397-1795.

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