More than nineteen million Americans have a hoarding disorder which is a mental condition that is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and it is characterized by the building up of excessive clutter in the home to the extent that it is impossible to use it for its intended purposes. Because hoarding is protected by the Fair Housing Act, you cannot discriminate against an applicant if they have this disorder, nor can you evict a tenant for being a hoarder. Doing so can be considered discriminatory against persons with mental disabilities.
Keeping a house clean, discarding items that are no longer useful and staying organized seem like basic skills for many adults, so if you’ve never known anyone who is a hoarder, it might be difficult to comprehend that this is a classified mental disorder and a protected class. If you do happen to have a friend, relative or even a tenant who has this disorder, you’ve likely seen first-hand how compulsive hoarding cannot be easily helped or cured.
Hoarders hang onto things for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, they believe they will have a need for the item someday, the item has sentimental value, it’s unique and may be perceived as having monetary value as a “collectible” and they frequently feel safe surrounded by things they save. While we all have many of these traits to some degree, for hoarders it’s much more extreme. Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary.
Hoarding ranges from mild to severe, and in severe cases, hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Countertops, sinks, stoves, desks, stairways and virtually all other surfaces are usually piled with stuff, and when there’s no more room inside, the clutter may spread to the garage, vehicles, yard and other storage facilities.
As the landlord, the concern with renting to a hoarder is how it impacts the safety, cleanliness and wellbeing of your property as well as the safety and wellbeing of neighboring tenants. The more a person’s living space is plagued by clutter and rendered useless, and the more biohazards become an integral part of the environment, the deadlier living conditions become. If you can maintain the integrity of the property while providing housing for someone with this disorder, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Landlords, for some reason, are oftentimes vilified by the press and the government, and they aren’t recognized for their helpful role in providing safe housing for people with mental and physical disabilities. Property managers have a tremendous responsibility for understanding and accommodating people from a wide variety of backgrounds and special needs. In addition to this, they deal with all sorts of problems, including tenants who are late on their payments, get into disputes with neighbors, purposely damage the property, and much more.
Important House Rules
Hoarding can result in property damage which, in turn, can contribute to serious health risks due to mold, bacteria, rodents and animal waste. Discovering that your tenant is a hoarder can be stressful. In order to minimize the stress, in your lease agreement you should have clearly stated house rules that apply equally to ALL tenants. Some important rules you may want to include are:
- Disposing of trash in designated bins
- Keeping the unit clean, sanitary, in good condition and clear of foul odors
- Notifying the landlord immediately if there are any defects or dangerous conditions in and about the premises of which tenant becomes aware
- Keeping outdoor and indoor common areas clear of trash and personal belongings
- Keeping emergency exits and windows clear and accessible
- Not storing items that are flammable, combustible or otherwise dangerous
- Correctly storing perishable goods
- Using assigned parking or garage space exclusively for parking approved vehicles listed on the lease, which must remain in good operating condition with current registration
If a tenant is violating any house, health or safety code, regardless of if they are a hoarder, this could be reason for eviction. If your tenant is a hoarder, it’s important that you think about their well-being, as well as that of your property. While the tenant’s hoarding behavior may constitute a violation of the lease agreement and give you grounds for eviction, once you understand that this is a mental disorder, you probably won’t be able to help them control their compulsion to collect, but you can help them by reminding them of the rules so that they are clear on your expectations as a landlord and they don’t do damage to the property or let things get so out of control that the situation warrants an eviction.
Working with Hoarders
By making an extra effort to understand the disorder and work with the tenant to help them comply with house and safety rules, you will likely gain a loyal, long-term tenant.
If the tenant is not willing or able to comply, always keep the Fair Housing Act and your local and state laws in mind and be careful when handling the issue. Remember, you can’t evict a tenant for hoarding, but you can evict them for violating the lease agreement.
As landlords, we have the responsibility of providing housing for people with mental and physical disabilities, and the more we are able to understand different disorders, the better we can accommodate those with special needs. Landlords provide safe housing to the public and this is as much a people business as it is a housing business.
If you have or had a tenant who’s a hoarder, I would love to hear your story and learn from the experience, good or bad, so that we can all get better at providing appropriate housing for those in need.
If you have questions or comments I can be reached by phone or text at 714.330.9999, by email at [email protected] or visit my website at www.InvestingInTheOC.com. Mercedes Shaffer is an agent with Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty and specializes in helping clients buy and sell investment real estate and 1031 Exchanges. DRE 02114448.