Guest Post: Search Warrants and Subpoenas: Understanding a Facility's Rights By Scott Zucker

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    The setting is not unique, a police officer or other law enforcement official requesting that a self-storage manager provide information about a tenant at their facility or allow access to the tenant’s storage space. Understanding the rights of the self-storage facility with respect to such a request is crucial, especially since the resulting search has implications for the tenant, the facility, and the law enforcement agency. Therefore, what is a facility manager or operator to do when confronted with a request by a law enforcement officer to divulge information concerning its tenants or to provide access to a tenant’s space?

    Subpoenas

    Subpoenas are court orders which do not entitle the right to search, but which require the recipient to produce the information requested by the law enforcement agency, for example, a tenant’s file. Normally, a facility manager or operator would resist providing information to law enforcement officials about the tenants at their facility based upon their concern that they are infringing upon the tenant’s privacy rights. For the most part, it is probably not a privacy violation to disclose to law enforcement agencies the names of the tenants at your facility, since that information is part of the facility’s own business records. However, for a facility’s protection, it is probably best to request that the law enforcement agency first obtain a subpoena for the documents before the facility provides copies of any tenant records.

    Search Warrants

    The general rule to follow is that the search and/or seizure of a tenant’s property must be conducted only with judicial approval, or in other words, with a search warrant issued by the court which entitles the law enforcement officer to obtain access to the tenant’s space. When an officer first requests access, the manager should ask the officer to produce the warrant which was issued. The manager should review the document to confirm that it properly identifies the storage facility, the tenant’s name and unit number. Facility operators or managers are not expected to judge the correctness of a search warrant and cannot be held liable for obeying the commands of law enforcement officials acting within the scope of their authority.

    Exceptions

    As in all legal matters, there are certain exceptions to these search and subpoena issues. First, a facility clearly can allow access to law enforcement officials to the areas in their self-storage facility deemed to be common areas or into storage units which are not yet rented. Second, if the unit’s lock has already been cut due to the tenant’s default, there is no remaining right of privacy. In such a case, it appears to be a right of the facility to allow access to that delinquent unit without the need of a search warrant. The third exception applies to tenants who are on probation or parole. The law provides that those individuals who are on probation or parole do not enjoy the same expectations of privacy as ordinary citizens. It is always best to request that the police officers obtain a search warrant to search a tenant’s space, even if the officers indicate that the tenants are probationers or parolees. Ultimately, whether the search was proper will be an issue to be resolved between the tenant and the law enforcement agency.

    About Scott Zucker

    Scott Zucker specializes in business and commercial litigation with an emphasis on dispute resolution in the areas of construction, real estate, employment, landlord-tenant and franchise law. Scott represents companies in matters relating to contract claims, loss and damage claims, delay and productivity claims, premises liability actions and tenant dispossessory. Scott also reviews and drafts construction contracts, property leases and employment agreements, trains property managers in office, retail, multi-family, industrial and self-storage and evaluates property management operations in those areas. Scott also has extensive experience in creditors’ rights and bankruptcy proceedings as well as in commercial collections. He represents companies throughout the country in resolving their commercial disputes in state or federal courts and through Alternate Dispute Resolution. Scott obtained his undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1984 and his law degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C in 1987. For more information, please visit: https://www.wzlegal.com/

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