Hoarders are not just people who appear in a reality TV show or in articles on the Internet. Hoarders exist everywhere and, in every community, including in multi-family rental communities. Apartment resident hoarding can cause significant health and safety problems, both in the resident’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 resident. Instead, it is often discovered by maintenance staff making a repair in the resident’s unit or in a neighboring unit or by the residents in adjacent units. Hoarding can create a problem for surrounding units, such as water intrusion, mold, or a pest invasion in a neighboring unit.
Although some think of Hoarding as a matter of poor housekeeping, it is not that simple. In May of 2013, hoarding was listed as an official psychiatric disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual, Version 5 (“DSM-5”). Hoarding disorder is defined as:
Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with objects, regardless of actual value; The difficulty discarding is due to a perceived need to save and distress associated with discarding; The symptoms result in accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use.
Residents with hoarding disorder also frequently suffer from other psychiatric disorders as well.
There is no rhyme or reason of what a resident may hoard. Hoarded items may be valuable collectibles, or items that appear to persons without the hoarding issues to be 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, although obviously not all hoarding situations are this severe.
Because hoarding is a recognized mental disability, dealing with a resident hoarder is covered under fair housing laws. It is important to remember that federal and state fair housing laws protect people with mental disabilities and require landlords to make reasonable accommodations for disabled residents, when such an accommodation is necessary to afford the disabled resident full and equal use and enjoyment of the rental property.
Fair housing compliance requires that before an 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 by the property management to accommodate the resident’s disability. This generally requires that the resident be given opportunities to come into compliance so that he or she can retain the tenancy.
When dealing with a hoarding situation, the focus should only be on solving legitimate health and safety issues rather than attempting to achieve ideal housekeeping habits. It should be recognized that even if the resident meets minimum health and safety standards, the unit may not meet your expectations of an “optimal condition.” It is also important to realize that residents with hoarding issues may not recognize they have the problem (or the severity of the problem) or be equipped to resolve the hoarding problem on their own.
Accommodation of a resident hoarder 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 residents or the property— and there is no accommodation that will eliminate or sufficiently mitigate the health and safety issues; or
- 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 resident will not engage in the accommodation process or cooperate to bring the unit back into compliance.
Even if the resident hoarder is cooperative in coming into compliance it is important to know that ‘hoarding disorder’ has a high rate of recidivism. This means that a resident with hoarding issues may “slip” and re-hoard again the future. Therefore, any written agreement made with the resident should include language that provides for periodic unit inspections after the health and safety issues have been remedied.
We advise that you seek legal advice and call THS before taking any action to terminate a tenancy if hoarding issues may be involved. If not handled appropriately, it could result in a Fair Housing complaint being filed against you personally, the property, and the company.