How to Deal with Tenants Who Hoard
Hoarding, the excessive accumulation of belongings and trash to the point that it is a health threat, is more common in the U.S. than many landlords realize. If you own rental property, you may come across a tenant who has a psychological need to hoard in your home. Hoarding can cause structural damage to your property, block exits in case of an emergency, attract rodents and other animals and insects, cause a fire, cause a fall, cause injury from falling debris, and cause mold and mildew, among other health and safety concerns.
So just evict these tenants, right? Well, no, not right away. Landlords need to be aware that in 2013 the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized hoarding as a mental disorder making hoarders a protected class. This puts rental property owners in a difficult spot. On one hand, they are responsible for the safety of their tenants. On the other hand, they can’t discriminate against people with disabilities. So, what does a rental property owner do? If you are renting to a hoarder and receive complaints from neighbors or have concerns yourself, you have a responsibility to make sure your home is safe, but you also need to make sure the problem is handled carefully so that you are protected from Fair Housing Implications and/or discrimination charges.
Steps in dealing with a hoarder:
- Initial Inspection: Either the landlord or property manager should make a house call to assess the situation. Inspectors need to document the problem with a video or pictures, especially if the exits or ventilation systems are blocked, hazardous material is on the premises, or the mess is attracting animals and mold and hiding filth. If needed, a city inspector may confirm any safety and health violations.
- Evaluation: Recognize the difference between a hoarder and just a bad housekeeper. Bad housekeepers can clean up the mess, but hoarders put emotional significance into what others might see as trash and have a hard time getting rid of things they feel are precious. A typical hoarder will have piles of trash or belongings with little walkway. Sometimes the hoard is organized, but often it is just thrown everywhere. A psychologist specializing in hoarding behavior should be contacted to make an evaluation on whether your tenant is a hoarder or just a messy person.
- Strategy Meeting: If professionals evaluate the tenant as a hoarder, recognize that hoarding may not be a situation the tenant can control on his or her own without professional help, so accommodation comes first. First, talk to the tenant about the problem, but always be respectful. Explain to the tenant the significance of the problem, the codes they may be breaking, and how the hoard might be dangerous to them and others. Second, tell them specifically what needs to be done to come into compliance with the law and the lease. Third, the tenant, city officials, and the property manager or landlord should agree on a reasonable time frame to get the work done. If the job is overwhelming and the tenant cannot afford professional help to clean up the mess, perhaps the landlord and city officials can break up the job into smaller goals with several deadlines to remove parts of the hoard over time. Whatever the agreement is, it needs to be in writing and signed by all concerned parties.
- Post Inspection: Upon the deadline to have the hoard removed, the landlord or property manager should inspect the premises again to see if the tenant complied with the agreement.
- If the tenant complied with the agreement and the inspectors agree the home is up to code, then no action, other than follow-up inspections to ensure the tenant stays in compliance, is needed.
- If the tenant did not fulfill the terms of the agreement, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process, especially if the tenant’s behavior violates the lease or city codes and the landlord feels no other option can be used.
Getting Help with a Difficult Situation
Since hoarding is now considered a disability, dealing with hoarders is more complicated than most landlords imagine. At worst, conversations and punitive actions may put a landlord at risk for a discrimination lawsuit. At best, the landlord may feel awkward discussing the disability with the tenant, and the tenant may feel offended that they are being labeled as a hoarder with a mental condition, especially if he or she is in denial about the disorder. Landlords can avoid the hassle and legal liability that goes with dealing with hoarders by hiring a rental property manager who is trained to handle violations and evictions. We, at Real Property Management Prestige, are experienced in dealing with sticky situations like these, so let us take the stress from you concerning tenants who hoard. You will have peace of mind knowing the problem will be handled professionally and with respect to the tenant, you will not be charged with discrimination violations, and ultimately your property, the neighborhood, and people on the property will be protected, which is your responsibility as the home owner.
Learn more about how Real Property Management Prestige can help you against hoarders.
We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.