Storage unit. Contractor for owner came ...

Asked by JoniV on 13-01-2021 14:26:31
Question posted in the Property Law category relating to KwaZulu-Natal

Storage unit.  Contractor for owner came and stored goods and filled in the lease.  Copy given for signature by owner, although the signed copy is still outstanding.  Payment for unit received.  Almost 1 year later email sent enquiring if they will renew.  Response not received.  Few days later another contractor requests to access the unit as the previous contractor is no longer working for the owner.  We did not give him access as the owner must activate the gate.  He gained entry to the facility by way of another tenant that activated the gate (this was only ascertained after the owner now visited us).  Units are locked with the owners padlock and keys are kept by the owner.  Somehow he gained access to the storage unit itself.  In the interim another rental payment was received.  A few days later this contractor advised us that the unit is empty and that we can refund the rental to him.  He said that he is staying in the owners home and doing work for him and that he would sort the amount out with him.  The refund was only done about 2 weeks later after the contractor provided an invoice for the refund with his id.  The owner now came to us a year later and was not aware that the contractor had removed his goods. The contractor apparently ran away and sold all his household furniture.  The owner also never advised his insurance what goods were stored at the facility (this is mentioned in the lease).  He is now claiming damages for all his household contents from us, however he never gave us an inventory of what was stored.  The unit is only +/-16m2 (5,25m x 3m) and the contents that he is claiming for is for a 3 bed house and 2 bed flat and looking at the list I doubt that everything would have fitted in there. 

Can we be held accountable for everything?

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Posted by Att. Patrick on 13-01-2021 14:38:30

Hi there and thank you for your question,

I am a practicing attorney based in South Africa and I will assist you with your question. Please feel free to ask as many follow up questions in order to clarify your question. If you have a new question, you must please open a new thread.

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Do you mind if I take a moment to review your question? I will come back to you shortly!

Att. Patrick

Information provided by client

How long before I can expect an answer?

Answer to the Question

Posted by Att. Patrick on 13-01-2021 15:13:51

Even though the owner has not signed the contract and returned it to you, you can still claim that there is an agreement in place (because the goods are stored there) and that the agreement is that which is contained in the written contract. I assume that the owner has not disputed the terms of the contract?

If the new contractor gained access to the facility by sneaking through an open gate, and gained access to the storage unit itself without the key, surely that’s theft?

What does your terms and conditions say about your liability for theft? Surely your conditions would record that you are not liable for the theft of any stored items however you will do your best to safeguard against theft by installing access control facilities?

If so, then surely it is up to the owner to lay a charge of theft against the new contactor?

In so far as you were billing the owner for the rental, why on earth do you think that it was okay to refund a month’s rental to the new contractor? Somebody who is a third party? I think that this was a silly mistake and you need to sort that out directly with the contractor. You can’t say to the owner “We refunded your contractor; go speak to him”. I mean you can try, but legally, you don’t have a good case here.

The owner should have ensured that his stuff was insured. If he didn’t, that’s his own fault, not yours.

Tell him that he can get lost regarding the claim for damages against you. Tell him that he doesn’t have a case and show him your terms and conditions (I hope that you have some!).

Except for the refund of the one month’s rental, I don’t think that you can be held liable for anything else.

Information provided by client

Extract from terms:
You hereby acknowledge that We do not carry any independent insurance which in any way covers any loss whatsoever that
You may have or suffer by renting or using the Storage Unit. You hereby expressly release and indemnify Us as well as our
employees, directors and agents from any liability for any losses and/or damages (including consequential and indirect losses)
to any of Your Goods in or about the Storage Unit caused by, amongst other things, fire, heat, theft, water, damp, rainstorms,
hail, tornado, explosion, riot, rodents, civil disturbances, insects, sonic boom, land vehicles, unlawful entry, or any other cause
whatsoever, nor shall We be liable to You and/or Your guests or invitees or agents while for any injury sustained, personal or
otherwise in or about the Storage Unit and this indemnity extends to any claims by such persons. You, your guests or invitees
or agents will enter our Premises and Storage Unit entirely at your / their own risk.
21. All Goods stored in the Storage Unit shall be stored at Your sole risk and You hereby assume sole responsibility for the safety
of the Goods and any loss or damage to the Goods stored by You in the Storage Unit. You are strongly advised to make Your
own arrangements to take out insurance cover.

Information provided by client

Extract from terms:
"You hereby acknowledge that We do not carry any independent insurance which in any way covers any loss whatsoever that
You may have or suffer by renting or using the Storage Unit. You hereby expressly release and indemnify Us as well as our
employees, directors and agents from any liability for any losses and/or damages (including consequential and indirect losses)
to any of Your Goods in or about the Storage Unit caused by, amongst other things, fire, heat, theft, water, damp, rainstorms,
hail, tornado, explosion, riot, rodents, civil disturbances, insects, sonic boom, land vehicles, unlawful entry, or any other cause
whatsoever, nor shall We be liable to You and/or Your guests or invitees or agents while for any injury sustained, personal or
otherwise in or about the Storage Unit and this indemnity extends to any claims by such persons. You, your guests or invitees
or agents will enter our Premises and Storage Unit entirely at your / their own risk.
21. All Goods stored in the Storage Unit shall be stored at Your sole risk and You hereby assume sole responsibility for the safety
of the Goods and any loss or damage to the Goods stored by You in the Storage Unit. You are strongly advised to make Your
own arrangements to take out insurance cover."
My understanding is then that we cannot we held liable for the "theft" of the goods on the rental amount.

Answer to the Question

Posted by Att. Patrick on 13-01-2021 15:52:35

I think that your terms cover you, 100%. Well done!

Answer Accepted

This answer was accepted on 13-01-2021 15:54:36

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