Hoarding is becoming an increasingly common disorder that carries serious consequences for the afflicted, their family, and neighbors. Hoarding has the potential to attract rodents, create fire hazards, and can threaten the health of occupants. While hoarding is dangerous for anyone, it is especially problematic for condominium associations where residents live so close together. Rather than just affecting the occupants of a specific unit, it can also affect the neighboring units and common elements.
Between two and five percent of the American population are compulsive hoarders. That is six million people. Compulsive hoarding is defined as “retaining items of no value in quantities that interfere with the ability to function.” While it is currently considered a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, some professionals have suggested that it should be its own disease.
Hoarding in Condominium Communities
To protect unit owners from the impact caused by compulsive hoarding, associations need to be proactive and think outside the box. While most condominium associations have restrictions that prohibit owners from creating nuisances and keep their units in a safe and clean condition, pursuing legal action is rarely the recommended first step. Associations should also be mindful of the unit owner’s physical and mental health. Sometimes reaching out to family members who may be unaware of their relative’s condition can result in a positive outcome for all. If no family members can be reached the association should contact government agencies, such as the health department, the fire department, or the department of children and families can be brought in to handle the enforcement allowing the board or manager to avoid any direct confrontations with the owner. But there are times that government agencies refuse to get involved. Unfortunately, then a confrontation with the owner is unavoidable.
Handling Hoarding in a Condominium Community
Many associations have the right to enter a unit and inspect the unit for various reasons. If the association finds that one of the owners is hoarding and it is becoming a nuisance to the community, the enforcement should start with talking with the owner or sending a letter to the hoarder. Hoarders often do not view what they are doing as a problem and probably do not understand how they are affecting others. Rather than being confrontational to start, explaining to the owner that the clutter has created a nuisance or a health and safety concern will educate them on the situation and may convince them to clean up the mess.
If the owner still does not clean up, the next step for the board is to write a letter or have an attorney write a letter. If the board determines that the condition of the unit presents a health and safety hazard to the community, they can demand the owner to clean the unit or have the unit cleaned at the owner’s expense. This will be the official notice informing the owner in writing that they are in violation of the nuisance and maintenance provision in the covenants of the community. The letter should include a time period that the owner has to clean the unit and that timeline should be dependent on the severity of the situation.
If the owner fails to respond to the notice, the condominium association may have to file a petition for non-binding arbitration to obtain an order to have the unit cleaned. The association will need to present persuasive evidence that the unit is a nuisance and is a health and safety danger to other members of the community. The best way to document the claim that a particular owner is a nuisance is to have photos of the particular unit available. Other options of evidence include affidavits from a manager or citations by local officials regarding the unit.
Hoarding can be a difficult situation for anyone, but especially in a condominium community. Oftentimes, the hoarder does not even realize that their hoarding tendencies are a problem until someone points it out. Even then there is the possibility that they could get defensive. It can be difficult to inform the owner of a unit that their hoarding is causing a nuisance to the community but it is a necessary step for keeping the community safe.