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Landlord / Tenant Q&A: LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR

LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR
Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. My tenant seems to be a hoarder. There are piles of items everywhere and the place smells. I’m afraid that I will have a rodent problem or fire. Can I terminate his rental agreement?

A. Hoarding is classified as a psychological disorder or disability and, as such, is covered as a protected class under federal anti-discrimination laws. However, if the health and safety of the public is compromised, the Landlord has the right to demand that the problem be controlled to the point where there is no danger.

Tenants must maintain the rental unit and have a greater duty of care than if they owned the unit. Section 521-51 of the Landlord-Tenant Code states that tenants shall: “comply with all applicable building and housing laws materially affecting health and safety; keep that part of the premises which the tenant occupies and uses as clean and safe as the conditions of the premises permit; dispose from the tenant’s dwelling unit all rubbish, garbage and other organic or flammable waste in a clean and safe manner.” Besides being an eyesore, if a tenant allows the unit to be overrun with belongings, it could be a health hazard that attracts rodents, bedbugs or other insects. A large quantity of stored items could also create mold problems, increase the fire risk, exceed the load bearing capacity of the floor or interfere with access into or out of the unit. Storing hazardous materials, such as cans full of gas or other flammable items, could create an unsafe condition for the tenants as well as the neighbors. It is the responsibility of the Landlord, if they know this is occurring, to try to remedy the situation.

If a person is a diagnosed hoarder, you would have to make good faith efforts to accommodate their disability. You could provide the tenant with a list of mental health services that could assist. You could work in conjunction with family or other groups to assist the tenant in bringing the unit into compliance. You could involve a neutral third party such as the fire department or health inspector to talk with the tenant to identify the health or safety concerns. If there is a lot of stuff, but it is neatly stored and not a danger, you would just have to accept those conditions.

If, in spite of all your efforts and whether or not the tenant is a hoarder or just a very messy tenant, the tenant makes no attempt to make changes and there is a serious code violation threatening the health or safety of others, Section 521-69 of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Code provides the procedures for the Landlord. The Landlord must notify the tenant in writing of the non-compliance and allow a specified time of at least ten days after receipt of the notice by the tenant to remedy the noncompliance. If the tenant does not comply with the request, the Landlord may begin a proceeding for termination of the rental agreement and possession of the unit. Seek legal advice before you decide to evict a hoarder and keep notes of all your attempts to assist the tenant to resolve the situation. The Landlord may also correct the problem by cleaning and then billing the tenant for the actual and reasonable cost of such remedy, but a hoarder might resist your attempts to do this.

Hoarding can be a very difficult situation for the Landlord, family, neighbors and for the hoarder and a lot of patience will be required. Even if the tenant does resolve the issues, there is a strong possibility that they will re-hoard again. The Landlord should do more frequent periodic assessments of the unit in the future to assure that the unit remains in an acceptable condition.

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