In an earlier article, I addressed the fact that hoarding is now recognized as a mental disability by the American Psychiatric Association and is subsequently covered under the Fair Housing Act. Landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodation for the tenant based on this disorder.
A disability under the Fair Housing Act is defined as a physical or mental impairment that significantly interferes with one or more major life activities. As part of reasonable accommodation, you’re responsible for adjusting rules or policies which may help afford the disabled person with equal opportunity to use the dwelling to its fullest ability. So how, specifically, do you provide reasonable accommodation to residents with a hoarding disorder?
The first step is to understand that you must offer reasonable accommodation even if the hoarder does not ask for help or does not admit they have a disorder. Next, if you have reasonable cause to believe that your resident has a hoarding disorder (neighbor complaints, blatant infestations, overflowing garbage, or obvious animal hoarding) set up a meeting with them, preferably inside their unit so that it is easy to cite specific lease violations. You’ll also want to document these violations in writing and provide them with a copy. Review each violation in detail. Be sure to explain the implications of any health or fire code violations. Also, as long as proper entry was obtained, take photos and/or videos of the hoarding for proof in the event you need to head to court.
As part of reasonable accommodation, determine how to address the most severe violations (fire and health code infractions) first. Make a written plan as to how they should start to remove the objects that are causing the violations. Incorporate a hoarding-specialist service provider in the plan if possible, as they will have time and the expertise to effectively communicate and accommodate the hoarder’s needs. The resident(s) must be on board and willing to correct violations that involve severe health and fire code regulations. If they will not, contact your lawyer.
In the accommodation plan, outline specific standards for defined areas of the house such as doorways, kitchens, bathrooms, etc. Create a timeline for each step with a distinct deadline. List who will do the removal, who will check on the progress and how often, which parts of the plan the resident agrees to participate in, and methods to be taken that will help ensure permanent resolution of the problem.
Remember, don’t be accusatory or use words like junk, trash, or clutter,’as hoarders don’t view their possessions as such. Simply cite the issues that are in direct violation of their lease. Then, if the hoarder is unwilling to work with you to remedy the situation on a permanent basis, seek legal intervention sooner rather than later.
Image Credits: TLC,Hoarding: Buried Alive