Thinking I would start with a definition of hoarding, I went the Merriam-Webster dictionary – “to collect and hide a large amount of valuable items.” Obviously, Merriam-Webster never owned rental housing.
Undaunted in my search, I went to Wikipedia and found what I was looking for. Hoarding, also know as pathological collecting, is a pattern of behavior that is characterized by excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment. Further research found that this had not yet become an accepted “medical” diagnosis. Fortunately for landlords, hoarders are not a protected class and they have the right to require the hoarder to clean their units or face eviction. The question begs to be asked whether this is a modern day phenomenon. While interesting, it does not address what a landlord should do if a tenant is discovered to be a hoarder.
I have dealt with this situation on multiple occasions. It crosses all strata’s of income and can just as easily occur in a $2,500 unit or a $550 unit. Typically, hoarders are discovered during a maintenance inspection or from complaints from other tenants about strange odors coming from the hoarder’s unit.
An important thing to remember when dealing with a hoarder is more than likely the person suffers from some form of imbalance. As frustrating and absurd as it may seem, the items being hoarded represent something of great importance, for whatever reason, to the individual you are dealing with.
Please note the words “unwillingness or inability” to discard objects. Simply put, you will have very little if any success trying to persuade a hoarder that they should discard their treasured stash. Consequently, an owner or landlord has only two choices.
- The first and most obvious would be to send the tenant a notice to comply or vacate. [AOA’s form, Cure the Violation or Move Out]. Sometimes this may cause a tenant to clean their unit, however, more often than not, it quickly returns to the way it was. Usually this path ends up in an eviction of the tenant, which creates further economic loss for the landlord. I always try to convince tenants to leave on their own and agree not to pursue them, if they leave the unit in a clean condition. This saves months of lost rent and legal fees.
- Some may consider this unorthodox, however, if I do discover a hoarder and what they are hoarding does not create a health, safety or issues for other tenants, I have allowed them to remain in the unit. Typically, we will have to do a very expensive turnover when they depart. It often makes more economic sense to keep them in place. The positive of this path is that hoarders seldom move. What would they do with their priceless possessions?
The only caution is the “health and safety” of the other tenants. In some extreme cases, hoarders may be collecting something that would have an impact on the health and well-being of other tenants. Another very important item is to make sure their hoard is not placed near a water heater, furnace or anything else that may create a fire or flood.
Surprisingly, hoarders, when met outside of their units appear to be normal. They can be cleanly dressed and functioning. With this in mind, as in all issues regarding real estate, the answer of what to do when faced with the issue remains. It all depends. Weigh out the appropriate path to take.
Bruce Kahn, CCIM, CPM is the Managing Director of The Foundation Group Real Estate, a full brokerage, consulting and property management company. Reprinted with permission of UPDATE, the official publication of the Rental Housing Association.
My First Encounter with a Hoarder
By Diane Castanes
My first “hoarder” encounter was shortly after I entered the business. I was inspecting a unit above to find out the source of a leak in the unit below. We opened the door after giving notice to find boxes of newspapers and mail piled up over two feet high and a three inch wide pathway that our feet could barely clear as we walked from the door to the bedroom and kitchen. It appeared that no piece of mail, junk mail or newspaper was ever discarded; instead they were all hoarded. Papers were piled up in some places up to four feet high and were against the shuttered window blinds so as not to be visible from the outside. The only two unearthed pieces of furniture were a dingy bed and a dining chair. Fortunately, this unit had steam radiators for heat and not baseboards, otherwise a disaster would have been evident. The stove looked virtually unused and the food in the cupboards was minimal.
I looked further into the tenant’s background to find she was a senior citizen still performing as a highly acclaimed violinist in the Seattle Symphony with family in the area; she was said by the resident manager to be well-dressed and well-mannered. She had difficulty walking, but frequented local social events, though she never had any visitors. The manager had tried to access her unit for previous inspections but she had reported in ill. The resident managers were aware of her acclaimed status and assumed her place would be as impeccable as she was and let it go.
As we inspected the unit further that day, we saw that her toilet was backed up and her bathroom sink drain was clogged. We found a bucket in the kitchen and notable disintegration and an odor in the sink basin indicated that she was using the bucket and sink for her toilet. The pipes under the sink were deteriorating from the acidity to the point that a leak had sprung, causing the leak into the unit below.
The tenant was quite humiliated by our discovery and explained that she was too embarrassed by her lack of housekeeping to let a plumber in to fix her plumbing and confirmed the inappropriate use of her kitchen sink. We had to summon her family for assistance, giving them notice to make efforts to begin to resolve the cleanliness issue. Once they had scratched the surface, the family identified her need for assisted living and they moved her out.
One would never have guessed by her appearance that her housekeeping skills were absent, thus an early lesson in property management was learned. It is worth making the extra effort to enter every unit in your properties for their annual inspection and to keep in mind, “Never judge a book by its cover.”
Diane Castanes is Chief Operating Officer of Phillips Real Estate Services, Management, Leasing and Sales. Reprinted with permission of Update.