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Delinquent PODS go on auction block

The announcement that their possessions would be sold caught some renters by surprise.

By LAURA HEINAUER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn't until after the second letter and the notice in the newspaper that Frances Lapine knew she could be in trouble with her landlord.

Lapine paid her rent, that wasn't the problem, but she forgot the monthly payment for the storage unit that held her landlord's belongings.

She and 48 others were notified in the newspaper last week and received certified mail from Portable On Demand Storage that their possessions -- or, in Lapine's case, someone else's possessions -- would be put up for auction Thursday.

"When I saw the letter, I called them and sent them the payment right away," Lapine said. "The first letter my husband received. I didn't see that myself. The second letter was addressed to him, but he was out of town so I opened it."

Lapine said she sent $250 to PODS -- about half of the three months she owed -- and was told her unit would not be part of Thursday's sale.

The auction, scheduled for 5 p.m. at 6061 45th St. N, is sort of like guessing what's behind door number one. The units will be open for visual inspection, but bidders won't be allowed to dig though boxes, said Paul Umberg, PODS' chief operating officer.

"There could be a Rembrandt, there could be a Rolex, there could be anything in there," he said. "Sometimes there are couches in front so you can't see or sometimes they are filled with boxes. You have no clue what's in those boxes."

The auctions are held monthly, in accordance with the Florida Self-Storage Facility Act. After the rent of $125-$175 goes unpaid -- usually a maximum of 90 days -- PODS sends two letters, one of them certified. Notices are posted on the storage unit and in the newspaper. In some cases, there is a telephone call.

"The contract spells out specifically what will happen," Umberg said. "It's no different than any other public storage company."

If items are auctioned for an amount greater than the rent owed, the tenant is reimbursed the difference. Renters have until the time of the auction to pay the lien and get their possessions back, Umberg said.

"They have ample warning. It's 30 to 60 days before anything happens," said PODS Legal Risk Manager Jacqulyn Cosentino. "We give renters every opportunity. The major preponderence of people pay us."

None of the PODS up for auction Thursday were taken from a renter's private property, Umberg said.

Unlike many other public storage companies, PODS units can be delivered to the customer's residence and loaded. Short-term users can keep the units for a certain number of days depending on where they live. St. Petersburg restricts the stay to seven days. In Clearwater, an ordinance passed last week now restricts the stay to four days, said Cosentino. The units for long-term users are taken to a storage facility.

Lapine said her landlord will return from Montreal in a year: "I'm sure he'll want his stuff to be here."

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