Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that can have significant implications for both the individual and the surrounding community. By understanding the unique challenges faced by hoarders and implementing appropriate strategies, property managers can create safe and habitable living environments while upholding the principles of fair housing.
Understanding Hoarding Disorder
According to the International OCD Foundation, it is estimated that 2-6% of the U.S. population, or approximately 6 to 18 million people, struggle with hoarding disorder. Hoarding disorder is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their value, resulting in the accumulation of excessive clutter.
It affects people from all walks of life, irrespective of age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Hoarders often experience intense emotional attachments to their belongings, leading to extreme anxiety or distress when faced with the prospect of disposal. This psychological condition can pose serious health and safety risks, such as fire hazards, structural damage, pest infestations and unsanitary living conditions.
Identifying Hoarding Behavior
- Cluttered Living Spaces: Hoarders typically exhibit excessively cluttered living spaces, making it difficult to navigate through rooms or access basic amenities.
- Restricted Living Areas: Hoarders may confine themselves to certain areas of their dwelling due to the overwhelming clutter in other parts of the property.
- Neglected Maintenance: Hoarded properties often suffer from neglected maintenance, such as broken appliances, faulty wiring, plumbing issues and blocked ventilation.
- Unusual Odors: Accumulated clutter can emit unpleasant odors, resulting from the presence of rotting food, mold, mildew or animal waste.
- Distressed Social Relationships: Hoarding can strain relationships with neighbors due to increased noise, pests, or odors, potentially leading to complaints and disputes.
Legal Considerations and Fair Housing
While hoarding disorder is a recognized mental health condition, property managers must navigate legal obligations under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including mental health conditions. Hoarding disorder may qualify as a disability under the FHA, thus requiring reasonable accommodations to be provided to affected residents.
Best Practices for Managing Hoarding Situations
- Early Intervention: Act promptly upon identifying hoarding behavior by engaging in open and non-confrontational communication with the resident. Express concerns about safety and property damage while maintaining empathy and respect.
- Reasonable Accommodations: Consult with legal counsel to determine appropriate and reasonable accommodations that can help hoarders maintain a safe living environment without disrupting other residents or violating local health and safety regulations.
- Referrals and Support: Connect residents with hoarding disorder to appropriate mental health professionals, support groups, or local social services agencies that specialize in hoarding disorder treatment.
- Regular Inspections: Conduct periodic inspections of the property to ensure compliance with health and safety standards. Collaborate with the resident to develop an agreed-upon inspection schedule that respects their privacy while addressing potential risks.
- Documentation: Maintain comprehensive records of communication, inspections, and any actions taken to address hoarding-related issues. This documentation is crucial for demonstrating good faith efforts and compliance with fair housing regulations.
Hoarding – Final Takeaway
The economic impact of hoarding extends beyond individual households. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, hoarding-related costs in the United States were estimated at $50 billion annually, encompassing expenses related to health care, social services and property damage.
Property managers play a crucial role in identifying and managing tenants with hoarding disorder while upholding fair housing laws and principles. Collaboration and training with all team members is also an essential component.
Fair housing training ensures that all staff can recognize the signs of hoarding behavior, understand the legal obligations, and implement best practices. Following these steps, property managers can create safe and inclusive living environments for all residents.
The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. provides fair housing training and not legal advice. The users of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. web site and its educational information should understand that the information provided within its site is not a substitute for legal advice by competent attorneys. For more information, visit www.fairhousinginstitute.com.