Compulsive hoarding behavior is becoming a major health and safety issue for multi-family residential properties. The excessive accumulation of materials in and/or around living spaces poses a significant threat to firefighting efforts, responding to other emergencies and becoming a major source of pest infestations and unsanitary conditions affecting other tenants of the property.
What is hoarding? Hoarding is collecting or keeping large amounts of various items in and/or around the home due to strong urges to save them or distress experienced when discarding them. Many areas in the home are so filled with possessions that residents can no longer use the areas as designed. The living space is so overloaded with things that everyday living is compromised.
Why is hoarding an issue? Hoarding can be a fire hazard due to the increase fire load from the hoarded materials, obstructed egress due to overloading, tripping over excessive materials or having these materials fall on the occupants. Additionally, fire fighters are exposed to the same hazards while fighting the fire or during search for occupants. Hoarding creates conditions that prevent or restrict proper pest control measures from occurring and can create unsanitary living conditions. All these conditions increase the potential for habitation claims by other tenants. Additionally, remediation of a unit vacated due to hoarding can be costly and time consuming due to the extra cleaning and repairs needed to bring the unit up to habitable standards..
What can owners do? Owners have attempted to deal with hoarders for a long time. However, in 2013, hoarding officially became a mental disorder-thereby becoming a protected class. Owners can easily teeter on the line of a fair housing violation if they don’t handle the problem correctly. By claiming the disability, a tenant is asking for reasonable accommodations from their community, but it has to be reasonable under the given circumstances. That reasonability is gauged by the courts on whether or not the accommodation burdens the owners. Now the trend with fair housing advocates is to say that a owner could be responsible to accommodate if they knew or should have known that the person was disabled and in need of an accommodation. In most states; you can’t give a tenant a three-day notice to move out once you discover their hoarding tendencies, it’s necessary to help them in their efforts to bring the condition of their unit up to proper safety standards. That can be as simple as allowing them to take the necessary steps to get help and giving them a timeline to come up to compliance with reasonable rules. Their disability will generally allow them more clean-up time after the owner’s request. Reasonable accommodation relies upon some level of cooperation.
Ultimately, when there are health and safety issues, the owner has a responsibility to all residents to try and resolve those issues. Recognizing potential issues and hazards is the first step to solving a problem. Due to the serious nature and potential legal complications, CIBA recommends consulting with an attorney to review your lease to insure that “hoarding” is appropriately addressed with remedies that can be enforced with minimal cost and time. By implementing a culture of loss control within your organization, you may be able to effectively improve the stability of your insurance costs