Fair Housing and Hoarding

The American Psychiatric Association officially labeled hoarding as a mental disorder in May of this year. So what does this new recognition mean for your property and your residents?

Photo credit: Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

If you have a tenant whom you suspect of hoarding, they now are covered under the disability section of the Federal Fair Housing Act. This person, as with other persons having disabilities, has the right to reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable accommodation is the request for a waiver of policy, practice, or procedure in order to provide equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities. Any request for reasonable accommodation must be approved as long as it is directly related to the person’s disability and does not cause any undue financial or administrative burdens.

However, when a hoarder’s behavior affects the health and safety of themselves, the property, or other tenants residing in close proximity, the hoarder becomes the property manager’s problem.

When taking action, there are some points to keep in mind. Since hoarders tend to be secretive, going unnoticed usually until a neighbor complains, they typically won’t reach out and ask for accommodation. So taking the first step usually falls in the hands of the property manager.

Since hoarders can sometimes be possessive or defensive about their behavior, it’s best to approach the situation with tact. Don’t refer to their items as junk, trash, or clutter. And don’t threaten eviction. Simply visit and take notes of any health or safety issues.

Photo credit: Aric McKeown / Foter / CC BY

Identify the largest areas of concern. Create a written plan for them to clean up their residence, with the end goal being a safe and sanitary environment. Allow a reasonable amount of time for them to accomplish this task. Be proactive in lending support, provide a dumpster or an unmarked truck they can use for disposal. Ask the tenant to sign the written plan of action. If they are unwilling to sign, simply ask them to sign a letter stating they reviewed the plan but refused signature.

If you don’t have success with reaching an agreement for reasonable accommodation, then the final route may be eviction. Hiring attorneys to defend a Fair Housing complaint can be expensive, so it’s best to resort to eviction only after all alternative options have been exhausted. If you’ve documented your attempts to accommodate the hoarder, this will lend support to your eviction request and help prove you’ve fulfilled your due diligence in the matter.

In short, property managers need to be prepared accommodate hoarders as they would other tenants with disabilities, such as those with multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, or physical handicaps. When expectations are clear and defined, hoarders often can be valuable, long-term renters.