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Last year, a friend brokered an agreement on my behalf with a friend of his to store some of my property in their company's storage unit (he is the owner of the company). I was not a party to the original negotiation, and there was no paperwork signed, but I was under the impression that the deal was "for free, indefinitely", until I have the resources to move my property out and store it myself. Since then, the friend who owns the company has been dealing with me directly in regards to this matter, without a middleman.

Recently, the owner has contacted me, unilaterally deciding that I have a month to remove my belongings from his unit, or he will remove and dispose of them himself, in addition to suggesting that he will begin to bill me during this time period as well. I'm pretty sure that he cannot suddenly start charging me (unless it were a month-to-month-type arrangement, in which case I would have the option to continue paying the increased rent to remain, but that's not an option here as he wants my stuff out, period).

Given that there was no formal contract for this arrangement, what are the expectations as to how it legally should work, and what responsibilities/liabilities does/will his company have given that it's in possession of my property?

Jurisdiction is New York City, if relevant.

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    At first blush it looks like you are getting a valuable service entirely for free and now the service provider wants to stop doing this and even gave you a reasonable notice period . It seems like the prudent response here would be "thanks so much for storing my stuff all that time for free and I'll be happy to pick it up tomorrow". – Hilmar Jun 11 at 12:30
  • I am incapable of doing so, as I do not have the resources for neither transportation nor storage, facts which the owner is aware and indifferent of. At one point, I had a U-Haul available to me and I offered to remove my property given that I had the capability at the time, but "events occurred" and he opted to not to take the opportunity and allow me to remove my items. – user26135 Jun 11 at 12:43
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what responsibilities/liabilities does/will his company have given that it's in possession of my property?

None. There is no contract (implicit or otherwise) between the owner and you. The owner receives no consideration from you in exchange for storing your goods, and an essential element of contracts is an exchange of considerations. Thus, he has no obligation to continue storing your goods.

Another essential element in contract law is that the agreement --meaning the conditions thereof-- be entered knowingly and willfully. Since the time of making the arrangement and up to now, you were reasonably unaware of the likelihood of an obligation to pay the owner. This preempts the owner's right to start billing you.

If anything, you would need to prove special circumstances to avail yourself of a viable claim of promissory estoppel. See Havens v. C & D Plastics, Inc., 124 Wn.2d 158, 171-172 (1994):

To obtain recovery in promissory estoppel, plaintiff must establish

(1) [a] promise which (2) the promisor should reasonably expect to cause the promisee to change his position and (3) which does cause the promisee to change his position (4) justifiably relying upon the promise, in such a manner that (5) injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise.

However, the viability and duration of any relief pursuant to promissory estoppel seems very unlikely in the situation you describe.

The hardship you are undergoing --and which prompted you to store your goods there-- is unfortunate. But generally speaking, a third party (such as the owner) who is unrelated to the causation or prolongation of that hardship cannot be lawfully forced to aid you for free.

  • You appear to think that only contract law is applicable here. At least in England and Wales the company owner would be a baillee of the goods and has some obligations not to cause any damage to the goods. – Martin Bonner Jun 12 at 8:49
  • @MartinBonner This being a gratuitous bailment, the OP would need to prove gross negligence: Reed v. Cornell Univ., 138 A.D.3d 816, 817 (2016) ("In a gratuitous bailment, the bailee is only liable to the bailor for the bailee's gross negligence. [...] failure to return the object bailed [...] requir[es] the bailee to come forward with an explanation").But here OP cannot do so. In fact, bailee's explicit intent to terminate bailment is likely to prevail as an explanation that readily preserves bailor's ability to decide how to proceed. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 12 at 11:57
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The owner (or lessee) of the premises where you are storing your goods has, i believe, a duty of "slight care" because s/he accepted your goods, but did not ask any fee or charge. The owner must give you reasonable notice to reclaim your goods. That need not be very long -- a few days is probably all that s/he is required to provide. The owner is not required to give you the right to keep your goods there further, even for a fee.

If the owner gives you a reasonable time, and you do not (or cannot) reclaim your goods, the owner can remove them and inform you, and if they become lost or damaged, has no liability to you.

If you requested permission to cone to the site and pick up your goods when you had transport, and the owner unreasonably refused, and as a result of that refusal your goods become lost, you might have a claim against the owner. But the refusal would have had to be pretty clearly unreasonable. The owner is not required to open up at your convenience.

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