How to Deal with Hoarding at Your Apartment Property
We’ve all known hoarders but probably just considered them pack rats of some form or another. A cluttered two-car garage that can’t hold one car, let alone a pair, isn’t that unusual, but it’s a basic form of hoarding if you ask the experts.
I guess I’m a hoarder in my own way. My wife considers me a pack rat because I won’t toss magazines: “But those are for reference,” I say. And those boxes of baseball cards are going to be valuable again one day. But we keep a neat house and we can get two cars in the garage with plenty of elbow room.
Fact is, though, that there is an epidemic of hoarders who can not only maneuver their garages but also the insides of their homes, right down to hallways. I won’t cite gruesome details of the unhealthiness that goes along with that, but suffice to say it’s real.
At the National Apartment Association Education Conference & Exposition in Boston in June some attorneys specializing in hoarders outlined the issue’s seriousness. Up to five percent of all Americans are hoarders – 15 million elderly adults have the disorder. That’s right, disorder.
Compare that to the 4.5 million who suffer from Alzeimer’s or dementia and you gain some perspective. And conditions are ripe for further growth with baby boomers entering their Golden years.
For property owners, a hoarder can be bad news. Health and safety issues, Fair Housing complaints and eviction can create blockages. A hoarder can fly under the radar for years, even be a property’s best resident with prompt bill pay and long tenure, but eventually they are ratted out by a strong odor resulting from unsanitary conditions or insect problems.
Apartments can become so cluttered – from floor to ceiling – that toilets, bathtubs and showers are inaccessible, forcing the hoarder to use those facilities in the clubhouse, gym, and pool.
A hoarder becomes a property owner’s problem when the behavior affects the health and safety of the resident, other residents and property, said representatives from Kimball, Tirey & St. John, LLP who hosted a well-attended session. If not handled properly, it can trigger a Fair Housing complaint and require significant cost to clean up.
And unlike on “Buried Alive,” the issue won’t get resolved in an hour.
If you have a hoarder, the folks at Kimball, Tirey & St. John, LLP suggest creating a plan to tackle the issues. And document, document, document.
Because a hoarder is very possessive, they say it’s best to take a sugar, not salt approach. Don’t threaten an eviction and avoid using words like “junk”, “trash” and “mess” when approaching the resident. Establish trust and gain cooperation; be compassionate.
“Many times our clients tell us that their hoarding tenant is a long term tenant, pays rent on time, doesn’t disturb the neighbors, is very nice, etc., so the goal of helping the tenant retain their tenancy often is not hard to sell to the client,” says attorney Craig McMahon.
Following are four proactive steps to in dealing with hoarder as suggested by Kimball, Tirey & St. John, LLP:
Plan a Home Visit
Visit the resident and take notes. Don’t be confrontational and don’t refer to the visit as an inspection. Try to stress that you’re not there to tell the resident what to do with their belongings but point out health and safety issues.
Assess With the Resident
Identify the most dangerous or relevant issues and try to get a buy-in with the resident to tackle those first. Discuss strategies to reduce the potential for harm to the resident and others, and assure that the property is acting in the best interests of everybody. Allow sufficient time for the requests to be accomplished.
Create a Written Agreement
Establish a voluntary written agreement that includes a plan of action for the resident, with measurable achievements, support, and a timeline. The goal is to create a slow, steady reduction to meet health and safety goals. Consider providing a dumpster or unmarked van for disposal.
If the resident won’t sign the agreement, send a follow-up letter stating what was agreed to and ask that it be sent back with an acknowledgement.
Conduct brief, friendly check-ins to ensure compliance. Monitoring is much more cost effective than ultimately having to force an eviction and clean up the apartment. Again, document, and include steps for non-compliance. Stay focused on the goals and don’t become emotional. Recognize that interaction will stimulate progress.
Also, be sensitive to a resident’s breaking point throughout the process and recognize when to suggest a “time out” to not jeopardize progress.
As always, with any issue sensitive to residents, seek professional or legal advice.