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Consumer warning: What you should know before you use self-storage

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7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda has the story

Self storage is a multi-billion dollar business. A Long Island mom was dealing with the largest outfit in the country, Public Storage. She says she had two organs and antiques all crammed inside a unit and was going through a storage war to find it and figure out why it got auctioned in the first place.

"I just fell to my knees and started crying because my mom's stuff is here, my children's stuff's here," said Beverly Mears, a storage customer.

The items were there since 2008 when Mears's mother passed away. She rented one of the largest units at Public Storage's facility in Bay Shore, but says all of it was recently sold at auction.

"I'm devastated, I'm upset with them, I've been here eight solid years. It's not like I'm someone new and they don't know me," Mears said.
The mother and grandmother admits she's always paid her bill late, but faithfully on the 30th of each month. On October 1st, she got an email confirming her previous monthly balance plus late fees had posted.

But she says just 25 days later, she was locked out of her storage unit.

She says the contents of the unit, she valued at $40,000, were carted off and bought for less than $200 at auction.

"I started crying and said, 'please, please help me,'" Mears said.

According to storage contracts, including Beverly's, once she signs the company has a "lien on all personal property stored" there.

"So if you don't pay that storage fee, they own your property they have a right to sell your property," said Madalyn Farley, Nassau County Consumer Affairs Commissioner.

"They're saying legally they had the right, that I was past due," that's what Ms. Mears says Public Storage told her.

It's true she was late, but less than a month. On Public Storage's own blog, the company says it sells stuff only after customers "failed to pay rent multiple months in a row."

Two days after 7 On Your Side paid a visit to Public Storage, Mears' belongings were returned. Mears was allowed to look in her unit, but not take an inventory yet.

Mears's tears just turned into joyful ones. Public Storage wouldn't answer 7 On Your Side's questions, but the good news from Mears is she says her storage war has ended happily.

The big takeaway is don't store family heirlooms or anything valuable.

The total worth of your unit should be less than $5,000. You should insure it if it is worth more.

If you get a certified mail notice do not ignore it. Mears ignored hers and it was an auction notification.

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