When the Hoarding Hits the Fan

Hoarding. It can manifest in a few different ways, but the bottom line is clear: It’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed. The hoarder isn’t the only one at risk here, so are adjacent neighbors, property owners, and community associations.

If a property owner or community association ignores a problem, they could be found liable for failing to take action and maintain a safe environment. If the situation leads to injury of person or damage of property, then the liability is even greater. With fair housing laws in effect, the process of managing a hoarding situation can drag on, so best to start as soon as you get a whiff of the problem.

To establish if it’s a true hoarding situation, you can refer to governing community-association documents, state and local laws, and fire and building codes. Ask:

  • Are there unsanitary conditions, like open food containers that could lead to a pest infestation?
  • Are there piles of garbage or items near fire sources that prove hazardous?
  • Are hallways or doorways jammed with stuff, making it unsafe to get in or out of the unit?
  • How about the amount of pets? More than normal?

All these spell hoarding with a capital H. Action is needed!

But what can a landlord or community association do to tackle an issue like hoarding, especially if the hoarder isn’t cooperating? It’s key to understand that hoarding is a psychological condition. The hoarder may not understand the extent of the problem. He or she may be embarrassed.  Even if addressed, the hoarding is likely to relapse. It’s important to proceed with empathy and care. Plus, follow up.

If the hoarder refuses to allow someone in to assess the situation and make a plan, one strategy would be to contact a family member or someone on their emergency contact list. Often a loved one will step up to help get the clean-up process going and find treatment solutions. If that fails, it is wise to speak with an attorney and go to court to gain access to the property. Courts can appoint a guardian for the hoarder, and social services can help through the steps. Working with local police to manage the situation is essential.

Property owners, management, and community associations will all be able to breathe easier when the situation is remedied.