People with disabilities face particular challenges when it comes to housing and have special protections under fair housing law. Disabilities include both physical and mental impairments. It may not always be obvious that someone has a disability, which can make complying with fair housing law in this area a little tricky. 

People who suffer from hoarding are protected under fair housing law and are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the same way people with other mental or physical disabilities are.

In order for people with disabilities to fully enjoy their homes at your community, it may be necessary for you to make changes to community rules, policies, procedures, services, or physical structures. These changes are called reasonable accommodations and modifications. 

Hoarding is a mental disability you may encounter as you work on a property. 

In general, you should not initiate conversations with residents with disabilities about what accommodations they may need. Instead, you should wait for them to make a request. Hoarding is a little different because it is a case where you may need to initiate discussions with the resident because the situation is dangerous or unsanitary and must be addressed.

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What Should You Do?

Here are some tips to help you work with people with hoarding disabilities in a way that complies with fair housing law.

  • Make sure you and all employees understand that hoarding is a disability.
  • Do not immediately begin the eviction process. People with a hoarding disability are protected by fair housing laws and are entitled to the same care and consideration you would give people with other types of disabilities.  The most common accommodation, for a person with hoarding disorder, is the written plan of action. 
  • Document the condition of the hoarder’s home.  Using a standard assessment such as those provided by the Institute for Challenging Disorganization or the International OCD Foundation can help you do an objective evaluation. 
  • Make sure to note specific lease and code violations. Use caution and be aware of potential threats to health and safety.
  • Involve your legal counsel. You will need to understand what state and local laws apply to your specific situation, and how to apply them appropriately. Do not overlook the importance of getting good legal guidance when working with hoarding situations.
  • Give the resident a chance to rectify the situation. If the resident agrees to clean their home and/or seek help, develop a written plan of action. For a person with hoarding disorder, the most common accommodation is the written plan of action, which gives the resident a chance to rectify the situation at a pace that is conducive with long-term success.

 Depending on the state and local laws, you may be able to proceed with an eviction if the resident is hoarding animals, explosives, blocking emergency exits, or directly damaging the apartment home. Again, be sure to consult your legal counsel for before proceeding with an eviction, as this can be a complicated issue to navigate with residents.

Ellen Clark is the Director of Assessment at Grace Hill.  Her work has spanned the entire learner lifecycle, from elementary school through professional education. She spent over 10 years working with K12 Inc.’s network of online charter schools – measuring learning, developing learning improvement plans using evidence-based strategies, and conducting learning studies. Later, at Kaplan Inc., she worked in the vocational education and job training divisions, improving online, blended and face-to-face training programs, and working directly with business leaders and trainers to improve learner outcomes and job performance. Ellen lives and works in Maryland, where she was born and raised.

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