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State lawmakers must ensure fairness for storage-unit renters

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By Retired Army Col. Paul Kantwill

During and since my time as an active-duty officer in the Army, I have devoted much time and energy to protecting military service members from financial predators. Last year I focused on the passage of the Predatory Lending Prevention Act (PLPA), and the nationwide repeal of a Comptroller of the Currency rule that protected payday lenders using evasive schemes to get around state-imposed usury rate caps. While those efforts were successful, there is more to do.

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Retired Army Col. Paul Kantwill

Recently, I took notice of a bill in the Illinois Legislature, HB 4627, which would allow the owners of self-storage locker facilities to avoid altogether the required public notice of the auction of renters’ items when his or her belongings have been confiscated. Those auctions often take place without the knowledge of the renter, who might be overseas defending our country or assisting fellow citizens falling victim to natural disasters. Illinois law requires owners to notify renters of an auction only by sending notice to the renter’s “last known address.”

A deeper look into Illinois’ Self Storage Facility Act reveals a law that is astonishingly lopsided in favor of locker owners to the detriment of renters. It is a law in need of reform.

Whether the renter is active-duty military, our neighbors in the military Reserve or National Guard called to duty, a victim of eviction, or a victim of a house fire, every effort must be made to locate the renter before selling what could be their worldly belongings. Public notice in newspapers and their attendant websites helps.

California law requires owners to allow renters to submit the name and address of a second individual to whom all notices must be sent. In addition, California law also allows renters to formally object to an auction after which the owner must get a court’s blessing before proceeding. Illinois law should do the same.

Locker rent increases and late fees should be examined. How many rent increases should a renter endure after their belongings are in storage? Active-duty military or reservists and Guardsmen called to duty might find it impossible to competitively shop or even receive notice once deployed. The current law should be viewed from the perspective of the transient and the vulnerable, not from only the point of view of owners.

I am all too familiar with real-life cases in which deployed service members have lost literally everything when storage facility owners sell off their possessions. I am sure that, given these difficult times, many other Illinoisans have suffered or will suffer the same.

There are several other changes in Illinois law that could help protect the renters of storage lockers.  Many of those changes have been proposed by my colleagues, including the Woodstock Institute, Chicago Urban League, Housing Action Illinois, and Legal Action Chicago. Those changes include several provisions that would benefit renters and help provide a balance between the rights of renters and owners.  I urge legislators to not only reject HB 4627 but to reform Illinois’ Self Storage Facility Act as soon as possible.

Retired Army Col. Paul Kantwill serves as founding executive director of the Rule of Law Institute at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He previously led the office of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He had a 25-year career as an active-duty officer in the U.S. Army and served in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

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