In the United States, self-storage facilities may hold storage auctions or lien sales to vacate non-paying tenants according to their enforcement rights that are outlined within the lien law of each jurisdiction. In Canada, the process and legal requirements are outlined in the Repair and Storage Liens Act.
Facilities owners are generally required to first notify the tenant of the outstanding debt, commonly by certified or registered mail to the address on file with the facility. If the debt remains unpaid, the facility must then give public notice of the sale or auction, generally in a newspaper of general circulation in most states, though some states may allow public notice of sales to be done via the internet. The tenant has the right to pay their outstanding bill at any time until the moment the auction begins and thus reclaim rights to the unit and their items; those units would be removed from the auction (which, in some cases, may result in the entire auction being cancelled).
The auctions/sales are open to the general public, with most bidders buying for the purpose of reselling for profit. Once the auction for a unit starts, the door to the unit is opened and potential bidders are allowed to view the contents only by looking in from the doorway; they may not step inside, touch, or move any of the contents prior to the auction. Generally, the spaces and their contents are sold "as is, where is" with no warranties or guarantees implied or provided, and the terms of sale are cash-only upon conclusion of the auction. The purchaser of a unit takes possession of its entire contents and is responsible for removing them within a set period of time. In some cases, the facility may allow the purchaser to rent the unit and/or charge a refundable deposit for cleaning of the unit once it has been emptied.
Certain jurisdictions require facility owners to immediately confiscate controlled items such as firearms if they are in plain sight within a delinquent unit. Also, a jurisdiction may require the purchaser to turn over some items (such as family photos and tax/business records) to the facility owner.
In the fall of 2010, two new television programs featuring storage auctions, Storage Wars and Auction Hunters, were released. The popularity led to additional shows such as Storage Hunters, Storage Wars: Texas, and Storage Wars: New York which helped increase the visibility and interest of storage auctions. Storage Wars: Canada also debuted on the Outdoor Living Network in 2013.