Landlord / Tenant Q&A: LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Profi les, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I haven’t been to see my unit in a few years but there was a water leak and I had to meet the plumber to see what the problem was. When we got there things were piled up to the ceiling and we could hardly move around at all. I was so surprised how the unit looked. Newspapers, books, paper plates – all kinds of things. It seems that this is a total fire hazard. What can I do?
A. Obviously your tenant has an issue with hoarding. Hoarding is a dark secret for many people but for others it is just a way of life. Some don’t even realize they have a problem until someone points it out to them. Hoarders have a compulsive need to acquire things, difficulty discarding things and strong feelings towards their possessions. Sometimes hoarders collect so many things that their homes, cars and even work places can no longer be used efficiently – if at all. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 2 to 5 percent of the United States population can be clinically labeled as hoarders.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association recognized hoarding as a mental disorder. As a disability, the 1988 amendment to the Federal Fair Housing Act protects hoarders because their major life activities are significantly limited by mental impairment. The Fair Housing Act requires that property managers or owners make reasonable accommodations for residents with disabilities.
What a hoarder requests as a reasonable accommodation will differ with each scenario. A tenant with this disability may ask the owner for help in supplying additional storage space or to provide a cleaning service to help them in an attempt to remain in the unit. If this isn’t something the tenant can pay for on their own, or if this will creates an undue financial burden to the owner, then it is in the best interest to work with the resident to find alternative accommodations that are mutually beneficial.
Of course if there are dangerous situations present – fire hazards, unlivable conditions and infestations – these issues should be addressed immediately. Combustible materials stored close to an ignition source should be immediately removed. Also, if there is neglect or abuse present for children, elders or animals, then local protective services should be contacted.
The steps to take to deal with this tenant would be to understand that this is a disorder and to handle the tenant with sensitivity. Don’t refer to their things as “junk” or “trash”you have to understand the deep attachment they have to these items.
Document everything. Do your best to evaluate the home for safety, noting blocked doorways and stairs, structural damage, unsanitary conditions, non-working utilities or appliances, and/or infestations. For structural damage or health code violations, local code enforcement and inspectors may need to be involved.
Try to work with the resident. Establish a plan and time line for cleanup of the property to allow the resident to stay in their home. Enlist the help of cleaning and disposal services to work with the tenant. Ask the resident to reach out to family and friends to support them through the transition and to seek professional help.
If all else fails, move towards eviction. Due to the cost and time needed to evict someone it may be better to exhaust all other options before evicting the resident. Again, be sure that you follow all Federal and State guidelines for protected classes.