Q. How much notice does a storage facility have to give before raising the fees? Is the time period covered by the law? I gave my facility plenty of notice, trying to be nice, and they replied with an increase in my last month’s rent.
A. Raising rental rates is common practice among self-service storage facilities, though the justification behind increases will vary from company to company. For example, some companies might have existing contract customers on a schedule that dictates the rate be increased a specific percentage after a predetermined amount of time has passed. Other storage companies may raise their rates to match the current market rate or demand, especially if long-term customers are paying very low rates based old market figures.
As with many legal issues, the answer to this question depends upon a couple of factors. Many states have laws that control the practices of storage facilities; in California, self-service storage facilities are governed by the California Self-Service Storage Facility Act in Business & Professions Code § 21700 et seq. This act applies to rental agreements entered into, extended, or renewed after Jan. 1, 1982. According to Section 21701(d), “the term ‘rental agreement’ means any written agreement or lease that establishes or modifies the terms, conditions, rules, or any other provision concerning the use and occupancy of a self-services storage facility.” So, the first order of business is to examine your lease or rental agreement with the storage facility.
The oft-used idiom “the devil is in the details” certainly applies to leases. Review the terms carefully, looking for specific timeframes for rent increases, the advance notice the company is required to provide to customers, or any general terms related to the rental rate. Often the contract will allow the leasor to increase rates as often as it pleases and by any percentage, and potential renters should inquire about these practices before entering into a rental agreement. Some facilities may let you take home a sample contract before renting, so don’t be afraid to ask for one.
If the rental agreement does not reference rate increases, then it’s possible that another California code section may apply in this case. The state laws governing self-service storage facilities as laid out in the Business and Professions Code chiefly focus on the creditor-debtor relationship created by the rental agreement, specifically as it applies to liens. But self-service storage leases also create a type of landlord-tenant relationship, in which case California Civil Code Section 827(a) might apply. This law states that if you have a lease for more than 30 days (e.g. a one-year lease), your rent cannot be increased during the term of the lease, unless the lease allows rent increases. On the other hand, if you have a periodic rental agreement (e.g. a month-to-month lease), the tenement provider can increase your rent as long as proper advance notice in writing is given. The proper advance notice depends upon the period the lease is based upon: for a month-to-month lease, advance notice is not less than 30 days; for tenancies less than one month, advance notice must be equal to or greater than the term of tenancy (e.g. one week’s notice for a week-to-week lease). The code section includes some exceptions and conditions, so you may wish to consult an attorney for a thorough interpretation of the law and advice on how to proceed.
You can read more about the California Self-Service Storage Facility Act in the Sacramento County Public Law Library’s Everyday Law article on Self-Service Storage Facilities. For more information on laws governing the landlord/tenant relationship in California, see the California Department of Consumer Affairs handbook on this topic: http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/catenant.pdf
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email email@example.com. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.