According to the International OCD Foundation, hoarding has been a hidden disorder for several years, but recent media coverage and study has increased awareness, including through TV shows like “Hoarders” and scientific research projects. Many landlords aren’t even aware they have a hoarder tenant until they receive a complaint from a neighbor or the city.
What should you do when you get complaints about a tenant potentially being a hoarder? The most straightforward way is to have a professional property management company handle the situation for you. Hoarding is considered a disorder and you could be hit with charges of discrimination or wrongful eviction if it is handled incorrectly.
If you want to handle this on your own or with the help of your current residential property manager, these are the basic steps you can take:
- Conduct a house visit: Whether you send a residential property manager or go yourself, you need to get a first-hand look and document your findings. Don’t just trust the rumors you hear from neighbors (but don’t toss them out, either). Some homes may be messy, but someone who hoards is different than a slob — there is typically little to no walking room in the unit, and stuff is piled high. The “stuff” looks like junk but it often has great significance to the person who is hoarding it.
- Consider what the hoarding is impacting. Hoarding often leads to violations of fire and safety codes, as fire exits and air vents may be blocked or perishable items can attract pests (and mold is especially a problem in Humboldt County properties). Some of the items alone can be dangerous, depending on what the hoarder has stocked up on, such as aerosol cans, explosive materials or ammunition. A few other factors to consider: Is the hoarding causing damage to the property? Is the tenant’s hoarding impacting other tenants by storing items in common areas, causing odors or attracting pests? You can have the city or fire department come assess code violations for documentation.
- Approach the tenant respectfully: Once you’ve determined that there is indeed a hoarding problem, talk to the tenant. Don’t refer to what they have hoarded as “junk” or “trash” — be respectful. Go over strategies with the tenant to alleviate the specific problems you have identified, and convey that this is best for everybody, including the tenant. Give a sufficient amount of time for these changes to take place, put it in writing and have both you and tenant sign it. Check back in once the time is up.
- If no changes are made, consider eviction. If there are local code violations, or if the behavior is damaging the property or impacting other tenants, this constitutes a violation of the rental agreement and is grounds for eviction. Make sure you have documented all aspects of the situation up to this point.
- If the tenant did comply with the changes, schedule visits to the dwelling every few months to ensure conditions have not reverted to their previous state.
Need more information on handling hoarder tenants or do you have other property management questions? Contact us at Real Property Management Humboldt.
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