Every time I visit my parents’ house, I threaten to bring a commercial-grade dumpster with me the next time around. They just have TOO. MUCH. STUFF. It feels like the walls are caving in on me!
You might feel the same way about a resident living at your property. Unfortunately, you can’t just show up with a dumpster. So, what do you do about a hoarder living in your property?
Most landlords, property managers, and HOAs tread lightly when it comes to hoarding. Of course, they want to be respectful of a resident’s space and their belongings. And after all, there’s usually a fine line between being sloppy, unkempt, or dirty versus being an actual “hoarder.”
However, that doesn’t mean that you should kick the can down the road. At best, hoarders can be a nuisance to other residents. At worst, hoarders can compromise the safety and sanitation of a property.
Here are 7 tips for handling a hoarder at your property.
How to Deal with a Hoarder Tenant: Tip #1
Proceed with Caution
What many people don’t realize is that hoarding isn’t just an annoying behavior–it’s a mental disorder. It’s considered a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that’s characterized by the excessive acquisition of worthless items. Since hoarding has been officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, it means that hoarding qualifies as a disability under federal and state anti-discrimination laws–and therefore, hoarders are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act. Landlords, property managers, and HOAs must make reasonable accommodations for hoarders before considering eviction.
For more information on accommodating tenants struggling with mental illness, check out this blog post: 14 Guidelines for Accommodating Mentally Ill Tenants.
How to Deal with a Hoarder Tenant: Tip #2
Understand Your Responsibilities
In most states, the landlord has a responsibility to provide a habitable dwelling. This duty is often referred to as the “warranty of habitability” and is implied in nearly every standard lease agreement. In exchange, most states require tenants to keep their units “clean and sanitary.” If someone’s hoarding interferes with either party’s ability to carry out their respective duties, it’s time to take action.
How to Deal with a Hoarder Tenant: Tip #3
Determine What’s Messy vs. Hoarding
As a general rule of thumb, we consider a person to be “hoarding” if their behavior goes beyond clutter and blocks emergency exits or doorways; interferes with ventilation or sprinkler systems; attracts pests through improper food storage; or creates hazards for other residents.
How to Deal with a Hoarder Tenant: Tip #4
Contact the Tenant ASAP
If you suspect a person is hoarding, get in touch with that resident as soon as possible, before the problem becomes more pronounced. Remind them of their lease obligations–namely, to keep the unit clean, sanitary, and free from clutter. Perhaps there’s a reason for the clutter. Maybe someone is preparing to move. Maybe the resident is temporarily housing furniture and other items while their parents’ home is undergoing renovations. There may be a legitimate reason for the clutter; and hopefully, the matter can be resolved swiftly–before it becomes a larger issue.
How to Deal with a Hoarder Tenant: Tip #5
Offer to Help
Consider ways that you might be able to help your hoarder tenant. Is there extra storage space in your basement that they could lease? Do you have a deal with a local facility that could offer them a discounted storage unit? Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to help–but if it seems at all possible to extend a helping hand to resolve the issue, offer that carrot before reaching for the stick.
How to Deal with a Hoarder Tenant: Tip #6
In the worst case scenario, you might have to evict the hoarder tenant. You want to start preparing for the possibility now. Begin to document everything. Take pictures, videos, and notes to document the property’s condition. Keep copies of all communication between you and the tenant. You’ll want to have these records if an eviction becomes necessary.
How to Deal with a Hoarder Tenant: Tip #7
Begin Eviction Proceedings
Nobody likes evicting a resident; but an eviction is often the last line of defense for landlords, property managers, and HOAs. You’ll want to use all of the documentation you’ve compiled to date to show the court that you’ve tried everything you could to accommodate the resident before the eviction became necessary. If an eviction seems necessary, consult with a property manager and/or real estate attorney. Evictions can be messy (and worse, expensive), so you’ll want to follow procedures to a T.
There’s no fool-proof way to avoid hoarding; but usually, one of the best safeguards is by screening residents closely before signing a lease. Landlord references can really be insightful–so don’t skip this step!
If you’re looking for help with screening applicants or dealing with problem residents, consider hiring a property manager. When you’re ready to search for a property manager in your area, All Property Management will be here to help.
Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. Amanda holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a Masters in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.