The research on hoarding has greatly increased over the last several years thanks to exposure of shows like “Hoarders” and “Buried Alive.”

Today, the mental health community understands a great deal more about the mental affliction of hoarding than they ever have in previous years.  In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual came out with the 5th edition.  It is referred to as the DSM 5 and in it there were several changes to disorders including hoarding.  The mental disorder of hoarding is now a stand-alone diagnosis with no connection to obsessive compulsive disorder.  This has made it more difficult for property managers to cure the behavior and keep their tenants safe. 

  • When a landlord or property manager is performing an inspection, it is important to realize a few facts before beginning the process and there are specific, factual dangers which can be discussed in relation to fire codes. 
  • Expect to find clutter in your units.  Three percent to five percent of homes have clutter which obstructs the functionality of the unit.  If you have 100 units you are responsible for, then the studies warn you that three to five of them have hoarding or clutter. 
  • By expecting to find these conditions, you will not be shocked when you do come across them.  This will aid you in keeping your thoughts to yourself and see your resident as a person and a valuable part of your community.  Do everything you can to refrain from expressing your amazement with the condition of the home both verbally and with your facial expressions and body language. 
  • As you walk through the home, be very careful of: 
  1. Falling hazards
  2. Piles collapsing on you or the resident
  3. Sharp objects which may be hidden in piles
  4. Rodents or pests in the home
  5. Biohazards and other potentially infectious materials  

      If the home appears too dangerous to walk through or you are uncomfortable, it is recommended that you have a discussion with your tenant outside of the unit. 

  • Discuss the factual dangers of the unit with your resident in a caring and considerate manner.  You will want to focus on the facts of the home and the dangers that are present.  The dangers can be fire hazards, falling and collapsing dangers, EMT accessibility to the home, proper ingress and egress of the home, the location of combustibles in relation to heat sources, structural concerns from the weight of the contents and pest issues.  These dangers are factual and it will be difficult for your tenant to dispute the dangers present in the home and the effects it will have on their neighbors and your staff. 
  • At the conclusion, you will want to have a very clear plan to address these safety hazards in the home.  The plan is recommended to be specific, have short time frames for results and include any resources which may be necessary to accomplish the goals along with re-inspection dates. 

Regular inspections are a key in keeping the clutter and dangers down to a minimum.  Build a strong relationship with your tenants who may suffer from the disorder and have regular interaction with them.  A unit which is inspected once every five years will have more contents and dangers than one which is inspected every six months.  Make your interaction with your resident a positive experience and have resources available to help them in keeping a safe home. 

[Editor’s Note:  A Hoarding Fact Sheet states that hoarding is recognized as both a mental health issue and a public health problem. It is typically not an immediate crisis. The hoarding behavior usually has been occurring for a long time and hasty interventions will not resolve it. In addition, interventions without the older adult’s cooperation can lead to the development of dangerous behaviors. Careful assessment of the individual situation is essential for a successful outcome. Serving a 3-Day Notice to Cure Violation on an individual diagnosed with a mental health issue could hinder an eviction process.

Therefore, it is recommended that intervention be collaborative involving the older adult, family and other agencies, i.e. mental health, adult protective services, code enforcement, building & safety, animal control and criminal justice.  Below are some helpful resources to assist you when dealing with a hoarding problem.] 

Department of Mental Health – ACCESS Center

(800) 854-7771

 24/7 – Information and referral to local mental health systems of care 

Adult Protective Services (800) 992-1660

24/7 – Investigation and crisis intervention for elder and dependent adult abuse including self-neglect, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 

Infoline

(800) 339-6993; TDD (800) 660-4026

24-hour information and referrals to human service agencies 

Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Association UPDATE.