Household Storage in NYC

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs regulations provide that every storage warehouse operator must obtain a license, file a schedule of rates and charges with that Department, and obtain a $10,000 bond. the schedule of rates must be kept available for public inspection, and must be presented to you, as the customer, before the warehouse accepts your goods for storage. You will keep one copy of the schedule for yourself, and sign the other copy which will be kept by the warehouse operator. Any rate or charge which is not included in this signed document may not be collected by the warehouse operator at a later date.

Company Advertising 
A warehouse operator cannot solicit storage of goods in any name other than that which is licensed with the Department of Consumer Affairs. In addition, ads must include the license number of the company, and the name and address of each warehouse in New York City where goods may be stored.

The Estimate
If you call the warehouse by telephone for information regarding storage charges, the firm must tell you that you have the right to a written estimate, the charge for the written estimate may not exceed $10, the address where the goods will be stored, whether there is a minimum monthly storage charge or minimum number of month's storage and, if so, the amount of charges, the warehouse operator's storage rate per unit, whether there are charges for padding, papering, and storage preparation and, if so, the amount of the charges, transportation charges, and other charges the warehouse operator will impose must be given to you. A printed copy of these oral disclosures will then be given to you before your goods are picked up for storage, including a statement about minimum monthly charges and/or minimum number of months' storage, charges for labor, and any charges for transportation, containers and packing.

Before actually accepting you goods for storage, the warehouse operator must provide you with a written estimate, at a cost not to exceed $10, including a description of all charges you will have to pay, based upon a physical inspection of your property. A storage warehouse may not collect any charge that is not identified on the written estimate unless the consumer agrees to it.

The written estimate will also include the name, principal place of business, and telephone number of the storage warehouse, and the operator, street address, borough and telephone numbers where the goods will be stored. It must also include a tally of the household goods; the estimated monthly charge if applicable; the estimated charge for packing, containers or transportation to the warehouse; the minimum monthly charge and/or minimum number of months' storage; any limitations on the warehouseman's liability for loss and damage; and any other charges incurred in storage of the property.

If you request that the warehouse operator accept your goods without a written estimate, you must sign a statement waiving your right to the written estimate, explaining your reasons for doing so. In this case, within five business days after the arrival of your goods for storage, the warehouse operator must send you a statement based on an actual examination of your goods, setting forth the monthly charge, any charge for packing or containers, any limitations on the operator's liability for negligent loss or damage, and any other applicable charges.

The Contract
Once you select a particular storage warehouse, the operator must present you with a written contract setting forth the terms and obligations of your agreement. Before signing the contract, read it over carefully and make sure you understand it.

Should you change your mind, and cancel the storage agreement, you may do so before 3 p.m. on the day preceding the scheduled storage date without any charge. After that time, you may be subject to penalty.

At the time your goods are picked up for storage, the operator must provide you with an inventory of the goods you are having stored.

Payment of Monthly Storage Charges/Sales Notice
The warehouse operator must give you a written bill within five business days after the arrival of your goods, and at least bi-monthly thereafter, for any goods or services for which there is a charge. The operator cannot collect any charge which is not listed on the written estimate.

The warehouse operator cannot increase the rate charged to you for monthly storage unless you are notified 45 days before the effective date of the rate increase.

A warehouse operator must surrender your goods upon payment of the storage charges which are due. A New York State law provides that no warehouseman may have a lien on any stored household goods where the charges exceed those allowed by law.

However, if you do not keep up with your monthly storage payments, the company may sell your goods. If you do not make payments as required, the company has what the law calls a "warehouseman's lien" against the property you put into storage. Under New York City law, the warehouse operator cannot sell your goods in satisfaction of alleged charges you owe unless you are first given notice and an opportunity for arbitration at the New York Better Business Bureau on the issues of (1) non-payment of the alleged charged owing and (2) the amount of such alleged charges. (This provision does not affect any other legal rights you may have prior to the sale of your goods.) The warehouse operator will first send you a "Sale Notice" demanding that you pay the amount he/she claims you owe (it will state the exact amount) by a certain date. The Sale Notice will also tell you when and where the sale of your goods will take place if you do not pay the amount stated. You should note that if the amount of money the storage company gets for selling your goods is less than the amount you owe, the company can sue you for the balance.

If you are a New York City resident and have a question about non-payment of the money the company claims you owe, or the amount you owe, you can contact the Better Business Bureau to arbitrate this dispute. Call the BBB at 212-533-6200 or write to the BBB at 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010, Attention: Arbitration Department, immediately.

Under New York State law, you also have the right to bring a special proceeding in court, within ten days of service of the Sale Notice, if you dispute the validity of the lien or the amount claimed.

Access to Your Goods
A warehouse operator cannot refuse you access to your goods in order for you to retrieve medication or documents necessary to apply for welfare benefits or employment.

I any event, the operator may not charge you more than the schedule rate for access, based on the hourly warehouse labor charge or rate.

Limitation of Liability/Insurance
A warehouse operator must insure goods against the negligent loss or damage to them, for a minimum value of $.30 per pound per item, up to $2,000. Your contract with the storage operator will include a provision that describes this minimum liability in the event of loss or damage. This means that liability is limited to $.30 per pound article, regardless of the actual value of the goods. For example, a 20 pound television set would be worth $6. The storage warehouse operator must inform you that additional insurance is available, at an extra charge, from him/her. The rage charged for an increased valuation must be stated on a pre-addressed request form.

If you decide to take out additional coverage, make sure you understand what will happen if you take (for example) $2,000 worth of insurance on $10,000 worth of stored goods. Since you have decided to cover 1/5 of the risk of damage or loss ($2,000 = 1/5 x $10,000), if there is damage to $1,000 worth of your goods, you will only be covered for 1/5 of the loss, or $200. Under the law, you have become a co-insurer of your goods and will be covered for the same percentage of loss or damage as the percentage of risk/coverage you have taken.

Protecting Your Goods From Damage While in Storage
As stated above, a warehouse operator must provide you with an inventory of the goods you will be storing. The condition of each item, at the time it is picked up, should be noted on the inventory. When you are to retrieve your goods, review each item's condition and compare it against the original inventory.

You should also decide whether you want to accept responsibility for packing your goods. Many insurance companies will not be responsible for any item requiring packing which was not packed by the company's trained packers.

Storage contracts generally exclude liability for damage from vermin, mildew an other forms of inherent vice.

Also, remember that storage warehouses tend not to be heated above a bare minimum sothat the humidity level is fairly high and may cause damage to your goods.

Transferring Stored Goods to Another Location
If the warehouse operator is going to route your belongings to another location, you must be notified 30 days in advance of the move, except in the case of an emergency. You mast also be provided with a reason for this move, and the new location's street address. A consumer who has not requested that the goods be relocated need only pay re-delivery charges in the amount of delivery charges from the first location.

New York State Law
Under New York State law, every storage agreement must contain these conspicuous notices:

"Notice: The monthly storage charge and other charges stated in this agreement are either the actual or reasonably estimated charges you must pay. If the charges are estimated, the final charges you will be required to pay may not exceed the estimate by more than 10%."

"Notice: Storage charges do not include any charge for moving your goods from you home to the warehouse or from the warehouse to your home."

BBB Recommendations
Before you choose a storage warehouse company, check on the business performance record of the particular company with which you are considering doing business with your local Better Business Bureau.

Visit the warehouse and inspect its premises for neatness, cleanliness, fireproofness, and other considerations important to you.

Make sure you know how much coverage you have in the event your goods are lost or damaged, and take out extra insurance if necessary. This requires that you be familiar with the value of your goods.

If you have a complaint against a storage warehouse company, write or call the BBB for a complaint form, enclosing a copy of your contract, canceled checks, and any other documents which relate to your claim.