Power of attorney is meaningless?
August 29, 2018 11:24 AM   Subscribe

My mom has a storage unit she doesn’t want. I have a limited power of attorney (signed, notarized, specific to this task) to cut the lock and deal with the contents of that unit. The storage company will not accept this power of attorney, against previous assurance that they would. The unit is in California. Keys are missing, it’s our lock. What do I do?

We are hesitant to cut the lock anyway because the office manager is nosy and has told us that doing so would for sure be B&E. I am also hesitant to break the rules, but I do have power of attorney, so....I don’t know. I don’t have a copy of the rental agreement. Office manager does know what i look like at this point. The company is NOT Public Storage.

I am extra suspicious because they have told me several different things about getting in to the storage and are now urging me to let it go to auction, which makes them money...let’s assume that’s in good faith for the purposes of this question. Have not tried hassling the corporate office and I have made a phone appointment with my lawyer.

I fully understand that strangers on the internet are not giving legal advice.
posted by blnkfrnk to Law & Government (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would contact the corporate office and ask what is required in California to get into the unit and to please send those requirements to you and the manager in writing. That will likely unstick any bullshit the manager is trying, but if it doesn't you'll have the official requirements and can pursue next steps.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 AM on August 29, 2018 [24 favorites]

Is it a 24-hour access place? When my friends lost the keys to my storage unit in Oregon, the staff told me I could either go through a multi-day process to get the manager to cut the locks, or buy a cheap battery-powered dremel-type tool and cut the locks myself. I cut the locks, got the stuff I needed, and replaced them with new locks.

YMMV as to whether this is a good idea for you.
posted by momus_window at 11:34 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cut the lock. Bring your mom with you if you can, but if not, tell them to call the cops and show the cops the power of attorney. It is your (mother's) stuff.
posted by AugustWest at 11:37 AM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It is not 24-hr access. Pretty sure office has a camera on the unit’s row.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:37 AM on August 29, 2018

Is the rent paid up to date? If not that probably makes a difference and would shift the weight of ownership to the storage company. If it's up to date, carry on with the above legal recommendations for gaining access.

If your mom hadn't lost the key, access probably wouldn't be an issue, so I think that's a McGuffin they are using to complicate things and push you to relinquish possession.
posted by citygirl at 11:44 AM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Rent is up to date. (I pay it.)

Followup question: I am on vacation and live in New York. I really don’t want to get arrested. How bad of an idea is telling them to go ahead and call the cops?
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:49 AM on August 29, 2018

Consult an attorney to be certain of your standing w/r/t the POA and your Mother's property. In your shoes I would totally just bust the lock and get the stuff. You should be able to get a padlock clipper from any hardware store. The lock and all property in the locker is yours, so you're not breaking or taking anything anything that belongs to anyone else.

I'd bust the lock, have a friend take the broken lock and clippers away immediately, and bring an intact replacement lock you can show any cops who show up. That way you can say you just opened it up using your key, what's all the fuss about? Then empty the locker with all dispatch and scram. If you can do it in less than 10 minutes it's very unlikely any law will come in timely fashion.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 11:49 AM on August 29, 2018

Best answer: I would suggest that lying to the police if they should be called is probably a really bad idea. It also accomplishes nothing, really. If you're entitled to enter, you're entitled to change the lock. Lying to the police in an investigation is likely an offense on its own.
posted by uncaken at 12:17 PM on August 29, 2018 [21 favorites]

Best answer: I would not just break in. You have no idea what will happen if somebody calls the police and they think they see you committing a crime. Even if you're white, I wouldn't try it.

Chances are a letter from your attorney will scare them into complying.
posted by FencingGal at 12:19 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer, but I don't see how it can be B&E to cut your own lock. Your mother owns the lock, right?
posted by w0mbat at 12:31 PM on August 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'd go ahead and call the cops myself. This person is not letting me retrieve my property and I have documents that say it's mine. Get them to send a Sheriff out to investigate this person who has no claim to your property and is keeping it from you.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:32 PM on August 29, 2018 [38 favorites]

Yes, don't lie to the police and double-please don't risk breaking the locks on your own after the office manager has told you she will call the police. (I know they are your own locks and I'm not saying it's right, but your safety is more important than the contents of a storage unit!)

This should be quick work for the appropriate lawyer in the jurisdiction where the locker is located, especially if there is a corporate office above the office manager that s/he can contact, so I think you are on the right path. If the timeline on that avenue is too long given that you are out-of-town, another tactic is for you and your mother to call the police non-emergency line together and see if what you have is sufficient for them to escort you to safely access the unit and retrieve your mother's property -- they may not be willing to get involved, but it's worth a try and much better than allowing the office manager to set up a police confrontation.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 12:35 PM on August 29, 2018

I'm guessing $50 to the office manager lets you cut that lock with no questions asked. I wouldn't bribe someone myself, but it might be an expedient solution. The clean way to do it is a formal and stern letter from an attorney.
posted by Nelson at 12:43 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah the way to avoid getting trouble with the cops is to call the cops and ask them to help you. Much like they will accompany you to retrieve your stuff from an ex, they should be happy to accompany you to rightfully retrieve your stuff from a hostile business.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:49 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My company works with seniors and their families. Roadblocks and confusion around whether a POA will be accepted in this or that scenario is unfortunately quite common. The banks are the most "consistent" but even they are all over the place - the same transaction may be allowed or not allowed depending on the transaction amount, or how old your POA is, or the individual teller/manager's mood that day. Often a company will tell the family that the POA is too old to be accepted but won't say how old is too old.

Yes there is always the lawyer route but it's expensive so I wouldn't go there, personally. You just need to be persistent and get the individual roadblocking you to understand that you are going to be a Major Pain In Their Butt. Oftentimes it's just a lame customer service lackey who doesn't want to be bothered but once they realize that you are not going away they will comply. I would tell them - and actually do it if they don't comply - two things:

1) Call the non-emergency police number and ask them what to do. "I have a POA but the storage company is holding our stuff hostage and threatening to call you guys if we cut the lock". Then proceed to cut the lock if you have their go-ahead (in my experience the police haaate it when companies try to get them involved in dubious customer disputes so there is a good chance they will take your side).

2) Contact the storage company HQ or Legal (in writing if possible) and tell them that they are in violation of California's Probate Code and if they continue to hold your stuff hostage they may have to pay all costs associated with any legal action you will have to take.

Good luck! Please update us on your outcome.
posted by rada at 1:00 PM on August 29, 2018 [18 favorites]

If the cops come in looking for burglars, and get someone who is clearly in a civil dispute with the storage company, the likelihood is that they'll (rightly, in this case) take the "not our problem" route.

Bring *copies* of whatever paper you have showing that you are the legit renter, and that you are paid in full. The cops will almost certainly not want to look at it, but they might. The cops give you the old "My name's Paul, and this is between y'all" and leave, possibly with a hairy eyeball or worse at the storage owner who called in a B&E to try to leverage a civil dispute, which is a abuse of the police system.

If the cops leave, cut your lock and start moving out. If the cops stay, ask them what'll happen if you cut your lock and start moving your stuff. I'm guessing the cops won't touch this with a 10 foot pole.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:15 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Why aren't you contacting HQ? Just call them. Don't cut the lock unless your ass is 100% covered.
posted by 41swans at 1:29 PM on August 29, 2018

I'd go ahead and call the cops myself. This person is not letting me retrieve my property and I have documents that say it's mine. Get them to send a Sheriff out to investigate this person who has no claim to your property and is keeping it from you.

If I were in a hurry this is how I would handle it. From your description I'm guessing this isn't the first time they'd be hearing from law enforcement either.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:46 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: HQ says no, so does the storage manager. Cites policy, can’t offer me this in writing, can’t show me a copy of the lease agreement nor a new lease agreement. Fully nonsense. The local nonemergency police line was a little wishy washy about it (they really don’t want to be involved) but my next step may be to get them to meet me over there. This place already has like a single star on Yelp so it’s not like I have any leverage! Oh, well.

Thanks for the advice— looks like I’ll make another trip out with my mom in the future, if none of the above can be pursued. Who wouldn’t want to spend their vacation days in Pomona, right?
posted by blnkfrnk at 3:23 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So according to the storage company, you’re not the owner/have legal access so they can’t legally allow you to break the lock and enter the unit, but you are the owner when they want permission to auction everything off?! If I were you, I’d get it in writing that they need your permission to auction everything and then use that as leverage that they clearly consider you to have power of attorney/decision making abilities and therefore must allow you access as well.
posted by Jubey at 4:37 PM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

For most storage centers, if you lose the key, the storage site will charge you to cut it - or you can bring your own cutters and cut it yourself and not involve them. You're not obligated to get their permission or approval to manage your property, which includes property you've been hired/given permission to manage.

Mom should be able to request (demand) a copy of the rental agreement, but that's secondary.

If you are white and male, I'd suggest getting whatever tools you need to cut the lock and just doing it. Bring a copy of the POA agreement. If it's easy to bring Mom, do that, and you can entirely ignore the POA feature, but otherwise - just be ready to explain to the cops, if they're called, if they show up quickly, that the renter is your mom, who told you to come here and get her things.

"Here's a signed document that says so; here's her phone number so you can call her to check - is there a problem, officer? I'm trying to pick up [some of] mom's possessions; if there's an official procedure for picking up a family member's stored items, the office wouldn't tell it to me." Play up the family aspect. Imply that mom is physically unable to visit the site. Demand, in the presence of cops, to know how a renter can formally grant permission for someone else to enter a unit.

If you are not white and male, you may need to decide whether "encounter with cops" is a risk worth taking, but in most cases, as mentioned, cops really really do not want to get involved in arguments like this.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:54 PM on August 29, 2018

One thought i have is whether the Storage Company would agree to replace the lock and mail the key to your Mom's address of record? For a fee of course...
posted by calgirl at 5:22 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering if they've already sold the contents or lost them and are trying to cover it up.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:26 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don’t think they’re trying to cover something up. I think the rental stats are down and the owner is trying to maximize profit, or I think they’re just jerks bein’ jerks. At any rate, there’s no contents insurance in this situation and frankly them disposing of everything I left behind when I went off to college would be a favor to me so I don’t have to pay to haul it. We can’t know their motives and it doesn’t matter.

Mom’s coming with me despite that being a whole thing, and putting me on the account as a joint manager. And we’re getting everything in writing. If they give me some crap about “no no maintenance can only cut the lock and they only appear on Leap Day” I’m telling them to go ahead and call the cops because I’d be delighted to hear the explanation at that point.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:22 PM on August 29, 2018 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: We got in! I am fairly confident they won’t screw us on the unit-vacate aspect, and if you’re in Pomona you may message me if you want the name of the place (I’m not mad enough to bad mouth them in this forum.)

For the record, the max 1-800-GOT-JUNK will take costs $697.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:10 PM on August 31, 2018

I'd don't suppose you'd share *how* you got in?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:01 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We just brought in my mom (which is itself drama I'd rather not go into, but it worked out OK and she was understanding of the urgent nature of this), cut the lock ourselves, and put on a new lock. I guess I was enough trouble not to hassle me further.

We will see if they try to keep billing me after I've already canceled-- at that point WHOO BOY ACTIVATE REVENGE CIRCUITS--but for now, we're good. Attempts to put me on as an account manager were unsuccessful, and they would not provide us a copy of the lease agreement. I am totally complaining to their complaint line, as if it will do anything. I figure they owe me $40 for the notary, at the very least, and I don't expect to get it.

My buddy suggested I just hop the fence and cut ALL THE LOCKS but that would be both unfair and actual B&E, so I went to a movie instead. I did give their sign the double bird every time we drove by, and that was satisfying enough.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:10 PM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Take them to small claims court for the cost of getting your mom out there, and the notary costs, and insist that, to the best of her recollection, the lease allows your mom to add a new person on request, or that she was told that when she signed up.

They'll produce a copy of the lease agreement to claim otherwise. (Or they'll pay $40 + whatever you charge for mom's visit; either of those should be fine.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:03 AM on September 3, 2018

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