Have you ever wondered if living in a storage unit was legal or not? Find out if you can hang out in a storage unit and spend the night.

rules and regulations for living in a storage unit

If you found yourself suddenly without a home due to financial hardship or natural disaster, where would you go? For some, that could mean living with family or friends. For others, that could be living in a storage unit where they keep their belongings.

While a storage unit might seem like a viable option akin to a studio apartment, it’s hardly sustainable. Living in a storage unit is prohibited by various local and federal housing laws. Storage facilities must evict any person they find living on the premises to stay in compliance with the law and most insurance policies.

There are good reasons why this restriction is in place. For starters, living in a storage unit is unsafe. Recently, a man was found dead inside a storage unit when the facility caught on fire.

In another instance, police had to vacate multiple residents from a storage facility due to health concerns. The authorities further stressed that it’s illegal to live in an area that is not zoned for residential use.

Why is it So Unsafe?

storage unit door that locks from the outside

Here are just a few of the many reasons why living in a storage unit is illegal due to safety concerns.

The doors lock from the outside.

Most storage unit doors are garage-style roll-up doors that lock from the outside. Also, in many storage facilities, management is tasked with doing multiple walkthroughs throughout their shift to make sure all the doors are closed and locked. This task is performed for your safety, but if you’re living inside a unit, there’s a chance you could get locked inside. At best, this could mean you feel slightly claustrophobic for the night. At worst, this could result in fatalities.

There are no windows or natural light.

Natural light is an essential component of psychological well-being. People living in a storage unit could find themselves even more depressed, lethargic, and claustrophobic due to their living conditions. This lack of space and light can be especially detrimental to children.

Storage units don’t have running water.

If you opt to live in a storage unit, you’ll have to spend the majority of your day outside the unit or sit inside it quietly and discreetly since doing so is illegal. Either way, you’ll be limited on options for bathing and using the bathroom. Personal hygiene suffers, and health issues can result without access to fresh, running water.

Cooking inside a unit is a fire hazard.

There are a variety of activities that could cause a fire inside a storage unit. One of the most probable is people attempting to use stoves or grills without proper ventilation. Unfortunately, people living in a storage unit are commonly to blame for fires breaking out.

Is Living in a Storage Unit Common?

homeless man seeking human kindness

Storage units are significantly less expensive than renting an apartment, so how many people break the law and live in a storage unit anyway? In our experience, it is those that are desperate and homeless that end up in storage units. People living onsite is not necessarily common, but it happens when it seems like there are no other options.

It’s difficult to gauge the magnitude of the problem, and a lot varies from area to area. Homelessness comes in many forms, and an unknown percentage of these people try to live in storage units.

But there is always another option.

If you don’t know where to go, we advise those going through tough times to approach the storage facility staff. They are well-versed with this situation and usually have local resources for food banks and shelters. They can act as a liaison and help you get back on your feet and sent to a safe place. However, under no circumstances should management allow you to stay on the premises. Doing so is illegal.

Living in a storage unit is less likely at well-maintained facilities with security cameras and locked gates. Get a feel for how proactive the management is at a facility if you are concerned about having people living on site.

Other Storage Unit Regulations

can of lead paint

In addition, most other regulations revolve around doing business inside a storage unit and what you’re allowed to keep inside. Some of these items are common sense, but in the height of a stressful move, they may slip your mind. Here’s a reminder.

Frowned upon:

  • Food and other perishables. It doesn’t matter if it’s pet food or pâté, stored food will rot, stink, and attract vermin. You’ll be very unpopular with your facility management and anybody with a storage unit near yours. This recommendation includes boxes or containers that have previously help food, like banana or liquor boxes. They may not look like food, but they sure smell like it.
  • Plants. Plants need light, food, and water. They will die faster in a storage unit than they will at your home or office. Gardeners are allowed to keep pretty much all their supplies inside a storage unit, but they must opt to keep anything that’s alive stored elsewhere.
  • Cash. Keep in mind that insurance policies do not cover cash. Therefore, all that spare money and loot you have scattered around the house will be much safer in a safe deposit box at your bank.


  • Firearms, munitions, gunpowder, and explosives. Don’t keep your firearm collection in self storage. The same goes for fireworks or other explosives. If you ignore this warning and your storage unit blows up, you could end up celebrating next Independence Day in a federal facility.
  • Kenneling animals. If you’re considering saving money by boarding a pet in your unit while you take off for the weekend, think again. You may not put an ant farm, tarantula terrarium, fish tank, or any animal in your storage unit. This regulation applies to animals that are living or dead–unless adequately preserved by a taxidermist. You may be subject to animal cruelty and abuse charges if you choose to ignore this rule.
  • Hazardous materials and waste storage. You’ll need to find somewhere else to keep your excess flammable, explosive or radioactive stuff. If it’s corrosive, chemical, odorous, noxious or toxic, it can’t go in self storage, either. Do not store lead paint, asbestos, urea-formaldehyde, polychlorinated biphenyl, petroleum, petroleum products, methane, or medical waste. Avoid any toxic substance as defined in several federal acts and state statutes.
  • Hot stuff. Don’t leave stolen goods in self storage.

Different storage facilities may have additional lists of prohibited items and activity, but this list covers the basics. When in doubt, read your contract or reach out to your friendly store manager for clarification. To find contact information for your store office, search the address from our home page.

What Can You Store in a Storage Unit?

Pretty much everything else! Visit our storage guides page to learn the proper storage techniques for the most commonly stored items.

About the Author


Lauren Thomann

Lauren Thomann has written about self storage and moving since 2015, making her our storage expert. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and Linguistics and has published over 150 articles on moving, storage, and home organization. She is also a contributing writer at The Spruce and Martha Stewart.

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