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When Can a Storage Unit Lock You Out? Get Facts Here!

Fact checked by Teddy B.Miller

when can a storage unit lock you out

Are you familiar with the reality show Storage Wars where professional buyers bid for items in storage units whose owners fail to pay rent on time? The auction battle is not staged – the laws indeed allow selling items in non-paying storage units.

So how long does a storage unit have to be abandoned? In most states, you have one to three months to pay your rent if you don’t want your items auctioned off.

This article will guide you on when can a storage unit lock you out so you won’t be forced to say goodbye to your stored items.

When Can a Storage Unit Lock You Out

If you go 1-3 months without paying your due, you will have to see your storage unit be auctioned off. However, this time frame can vary depending on each state, so be sure to learn the laws first.

  • In Texas, for example, the facility will auction your belongings 15 days after you supposedly receive their letter of notice.
  • Storage facility owners in California, however, may have to wait until 2 months after you miss your payment to auction off your belongings.
  • Maryland lien laws state that facility operators may sell delinquent items if their owners fail to make payment in 60 days.

State laws aside, the amount of time you have before your properties are put on sale can change based on the facility. However, according to storage unit renters rights, you will always receive a written notice beforehand, notifying you of the days you have left to make due payment.

If by any chance you missed paying rent, the owner will then lock you out of the unit. Standard operating procedure dictates that your padlock will be cut and replaced by a red one – effectively separating you from your stored items.

Afterward, a notice will be put on the unit’s (roll-up) door informing you and the public of its status. Some notes will also mention that you’re not allowed to cut off the red lock, cautioning that it’s illegal to break into your own storage unit.

What will happen months before the auction


As mentioned above, by public storage lock cutting policy, you will be contacted by the storage facility/owner before auctioning your items off. That way, you’ll have the chance to work with them for the payment of your dues.

The takeaway here is: it’s important to update your contact information with the facility to avoid being unaware of the status of your storage. The owner is mandated to reach out to you via phone, e-mail, and public notices.

When you’ve received the notice, you can negotiate with the facility about the payment. For instance, if you’re struggling financially, you can ask whether you can pay partially what you own first and settle the rest later.

What will happen a few days before the auction


If no payment was made and the tenant failed to answer the storage facility or owner’s notices within 90 days (depending on your state’s public storage grace period rules), the items will now be up for auction. Days before the bidding, the facility will publicize that your belongings will be sold.

It’s almost impossible to reclaim your items by the time the auction notice is up other than joining the bidding. However, not all storage facilities allow delinquent tenants to enter the compound, let alone the auction. 

If your items are sold, some storage facilities are kind enough to pass along to the winning bidder your contact information just in case there are important documents in your unit. However, you can’t always count on this to happen. 

What happens if you don’t pay for your storage


If you play with the idea of escaping your obligations and ask, “what happens if I don’t pay my storage unit?” then think again. For starters, the storage facility might blacklist you.

Furthermore, your credit score might get affected, especially if the auctions don’t fetch enough money. If that happens, you might encounter issues the next time you rent a property, sign up for insurance, or apply for a loan.

Beyond these restrictions, it’s sad to see some of your items go and not be able to recover them since storage facilities don’t give out details about winning bidders. Imagine losing items steep in sentimental value, such as a family heirloom.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a red lock mean on a storage unit?

When you see a storage unit with a red lock, it means the monthly rent for it was not paid on time, effectively locking out the tenant from it. Red locks don’t necessarily indicate that the items inside are now up for auction – paying off your due money will usually solve the issue. 

If you’re the one affected and asked, “why did the storage unit cut my lock even if I paid?” consult the owner. Don’t just break into a storage unit – as I’ve said, this action is illegal.

What to do if you get locked in storage?

First things first: don’t panic even if the lights are off. Some storage units have an exit keypad, and you can call the number indicated there.

If you have your phone, try contacting the facility if you have its hotline, and if they don’t respond, seek the help of a friend or loved one. Otherwise, call 911.

Can you cut someone else’s lock off a storage unit?

No, under no circumstances can you cut off someone else’s locks. Even a public storage 30 days late of rent is in the process of being auctioned, so you can’t touch the lock outside either.

All things considered, common sense dictates staying away from items or properties that are not yours. In the case of storage compounds, only tenants and the facility can remove the lock from a unit, abandoned or otherwise.

Can you go to jail for cutting lock off the storage unit?

You will not directly go to jail, per se, when you cut off a lock from a storage unit – be it a red one or the lock of others. However, a criminal charge might be filed against you, citing you as guilty of theft, burglary, or misdemeanors.

If you lost the storage lock key, immediately contact the facility owner instead of cutting it off on your own. You can call a locksmith to resolve the issue for you, provided that the property manager is there to supervise the process.


It’s almost impossible to find a facility that offers life storage payment, so to avoid parting ways with your item, regularly pay for your unit.

The next time you ask, “when can a storage unit lock you out?” or “what if I don’t pay U haul storage?”, think thrice as it might affect your credit rating.

Both storage owners and tenants are protected by law after signing a lease agreement, so it’s important to fulfill your obligations to avoid saying goodbye to your precious stuff.

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