Resident hoarding can cause significant health and safety problems, both in the hoarder’s unit and in neighboring units. Hoarding can create pest infestations, mold problems, increased fire risk, interfere with entrance or exit of the unit, or exceed maximum load bearing floor capacity.
Hoarding is rarely self-reported by the hoarder. Instead, it is often discovered by maintenance staff making a repair in the hoarder’s unit, or in a neighboring unit. Hoarding can create a problem for surrounding units, such as water intrusion, mold, or a pest invasion in a neighboring unit.
Hoarding is not just a matter of poor housekeeping. Hoarding is believed to be a form of anxiety disorder and/or obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD). Depression can also be a component. Hoarding is loosely defined as:
- The acquisition of a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value;
- Living spaces cluttered so they can no longer be used for their intended purpose; and
- Causing significant distress or functional impairment.
Hoarded items may be valuable collectibles, or trash, or anything in between. Units can be literally packed, floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall, with just a small path for movement in the unit.
Because hoarding is caused by one or more psychological disorders, compulsive hoarders are generally considered disabled. Federal and state fair housing laws protect people with mental disabilities. Fair housing advocates contend that before eviction of a mentally disabled resident whose disability is causing the person to violate the terms of the lease/rules, good faith efforts must be made to accommodate the resident’s disability. This generally requires that the resident be given an opportunity to come into compliance so that he or she can remain a tenant. Examples of potential accommodations include:
- Setting scheduled unit re-inspections and establishing goals that the resident must meet.
- Providing the resident with a list of community resources that can assist the hoarder.
- Working with a fair housing and/or mental health advocacy group assisting the resident to develop a plan to bring the unit into compliance.
When dealing with a hoarding situation, the focus should be only on solving legitimate health and safety issues rather than attempting to achieve ideal housekeeping habits. It should be recognized that even if the hoarder meets minimum health and safety standards, the unit may not be in an “optimal condition.”
Hoarders may not recognize the severity of the problem or be equipped to resolve the hoarding problem on their own. Some hoarders believe their hoarding is beneficial because they are savers, not wasters. Others deny that any problem exists. As a result, it may be helpful to involve a neutral third party such as a fire department, code enforcement or health inspector who can inspect the unit and identify code or other health and safety violations.
Accommodation may not be required, and termination of the tenancy may be possible, if:
- The person is a clear, direct and immediate threat to the health and safety of other community residents;
- There are serious health and safety issues that cannot be mitigated through accommodation;
- The resident has caused serious monetary damage to the unit and will not reimburse the landlord for the cost to repair the unit; or
- The hoarder will not engage in the accommodation process or cooperate to bring the unit back into compliance.
Even if health and safety issues are initially resolved, a hoarding resident may “slip” and re-hoard again the future. Therefore a written “Accommodation Agreement” should be considered, providing periodic unit inspections and a specified time period for correction of future health and safety issues.
No two situations are alike. Each hoarding situation requires analysis based on the facts of the particular case. It is advisable to seek legal advice before taking any action to terminate a tenancy if compulsive hoarding may be involved.
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