Reader Question: Storing someone else’s clutter

Reader Christopher wrote in to ask us this:

A former co-worker, “Robert” stored stuff in my basement. He promised to pay, but 6 months later I haven’t received any money. The only time I see him is when he wants to crash on my couch overnight. I’m getting ready to renovate my basement and I need his stuff gone! What can I do?

Thanks for a great question Christopher. It is nice to be able to help out a friend in need but there comes a point when you feel a friend is taking advantage of your good nature and in this case taking advantage of your storage space. I’m sure you’re very frustrated. It is difficult enough to deal with our own possessions but having to deal with someone else’s clutter is rather unfair especially when he should be able to manage on his own.

What you legally can and cannot do with someone’s stuff stored in your home varies by jurisdiction. It is also based on the relationship of the people in question. For example, former spouses are treated differently from landlord/tenant relationships. The actual items in storage may also influence what you can legally do with them. For example, cars and high value items like jewelry may be treated differently from clothing and low value household goods.

Do not act hastily to dispose of Robert’s stuff. You could be sued or accused of theft. It is unfortunate that this could be the case especially since you were trying to do Robert a favour.

The best thing you can do is speak with a legal advisor on this issue. If you cannot afford a consultation with a lawyer/notary, you may be able to find a free legal clinic in your area that can provide some advice. Often there are free online help centers. Ensure you contact one that is in your local area so the advice you receive is relevant to your jurisdiction.

Before you visit or speak to a legal advisor, I suggest that you write down very clearly the events/conversations that led up to your agreement to store Robert’s stuff.

  • Did you offer to store the items or did he ask?
  • Did you suggest payment, or did he?
  • Was there a verbal or written agreement about the
    • amount of storage space;
    • duration of storage;
    • conditions of storage area;
    • rate of payment?
  • Provide a list of dates of when you contacted Robert for payment or when Robert stopped by for a “visit” and include details of your conversations on those dates.
  • If you have records of your communications on the subject of the items in storage (text messages, emails, etc.) keep secure copies either by printing or by saving them as PDFs. Make sure they are dated.
  • If you have records of other moneys you have spent on the storage of Robert things (a portion of your utilities, a portion of your rent/mortgage) keep those too.

You will be able to provide all of this information to your legal advisor if he/she asks. You will also have records to look back on should Robert’s recollection of events differ from yours.

In the meantime, keep trying to connect with Robert and let him know there is a deadline for collecting his belongings.

I wish you all the best of luck with your situation. I hope you are able to get things resolved to your satisfaction.

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4 Comments for “Reader Question: Storing someone else’s clutter”

  1. posted by infmom on

    Three years ago I took in a homeless friend who had nowhere else to go. She brought everything she owned (from a rented room) and we made room in our garage and storage room for it. Eight months later she had worn out her welcome and moved out (cross country) and took a lot of her stuff, but by no means all.

    I have not heard from her since nor have I found a way to get in touch with her. I think I’m correct to consider her stuff abandoned, and we plan to donate most of it to Goodwill.

  2. posted by laura ann on

    Anyone that wants to store stuff with me (never was asked), I would rec a storage unit, they are all over town. My garage is for two cars and tools, nothing more. Simple solution.

  3. posted by SkiptheBS on

    When I purchased a house years ago, my former landlord, who lived out of state, asked to store some used building materials in the basement. I never heard from him. Fifteen years later, I did a Web search and he was deceased. I hauled it all to the flea market.

  4. posted by G. on

    It seems this is one of those instances that if asked, get all in writing (duration, payment, 2nd contact info, disposal agreement in case items are not removed) from ANYONE you are willing to store items for – relative, friend, co-worker or friend of a friend of your 3rd cousin, BEFORE one item is moved in.

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