Hoarding and Fair Housing for Property ManagersIn meeting and speaking with many property managers around the country, I find that they are often still unaware of two important Fair Housing issues. The first is disparate impact, which I wrote about last year – I urge you to read the article now if you are unfamiliar with this issue. The second is about the serious issue of hoarding, which is now a Fair Housing issue. At the end of this article, you can download a free hoarding checklist.

There are people who have great difficulty discarding anything; they are termed hoarders. Hoarding is the obsession to collect and retain too many belongings. Most people throw away or recycle junk mail, egg cartons, greeting cards, gum wrappers, empty food cartons, and other paper products; hoarders have lost the ability to dispose of items they use. In addition, many collect not only material things but accumulate animals; very often, numerous cats are associated with hoarders.

This can be a costly habit for property owners if someone with this disability rents their property. Tenants who hoard can cause great property damage, infestations of pests, fire danger, and other health risks. It can also endanger the tenant’s safety and that of other residents or neighbors.

It may not seem logical but it is more than just a bad habit, it is a crippling disease. Researchers estimate that 1 in 50 people are hoarders, with symptoms often developing early in childhood and progressing with age. That means there are millions of hoarders. Of course, this is not limited to renters; many homeowners have this same disability.

So what makes this a Fair Housing issue? Simply put, hoarding is a disability, and Fair Housing legislation protects the disabled. This may not seem fair and though you may feel despair upon hearing this, it is a fact. If in doubt, do a search on “Fair Housing and Hoarding” in any browser and you will find a wealth of material.

Hoarding isn’t new. Hoarders have been around for a very long time – it is only in recent times that the medical community has recognized this as a disability.

Now that hoarders are a protected class, it is not always simple to remove a tenant who hoards from a property.

First, it is important to recognize the difference between collecting and hoarding. Many people compile an unusual amount of a certain item or items. Their residences may seem cluttered because of this practice. However, there are three ways experts generally identify a hoarder.

  1. There is accumulation and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of very little value.
  2. They clutter their living space to the point that they cannot live in it properly.
  3. They have significant distress or impairment caused by the hoarding.

The best practice to avoid hoarding is by conducting good screening. However, it may not always be possible to spot because a common trait of a hoarder is secrecy. In addition, they could have symptoms but the illness may develop over the course of their tenancy. If it does become evident that a tenant has developed this debilitating problem, it is critical to avoid creating other serious problems.

It is important to remove the tenant from the property in order to protect the property, the resident, and others affected by their illness. However, it is important to take sensible actions because hoarders are a protected class and the wrong steps can lead to liability for both your company and the property owner.

  • First, determine if a tenant is a hoarder and document their actions. Setting up a property inspection and assessing the situation is the first step. It is extremely important to comply with state law when setting up any property inspection.
  • If a tenant is a hoarder, it is crucial to consult legal counsel early to determine the best course of action because they are a protected class. Seeking the advice of an attorney early is particularly important if the tenant becomes difficult about moving from the property or is any type of hazard to themselves or others.
  • If a tenant is on a month-to-month tenancy, a property owner or manager can issue a standard notice to vacate. This can work if the tenant is reasonable about moving and does not see the action as retaliation. It is important to follow your state laws on issuing a notice to move
  • If the tenant poses a health problem or has excessive animals, it may be possible to enlist the assistance of the health department and/or animal control.

Updating your Fair Housing knowledge is the first step in handling this problem. However, it is important to develop a system for hoarding problems so that you are prepared if it happens in one of your properties. I hope you will find the hoarding checklist useful. Remember, every month is Fair Housing month. 

Jean Storms - Owner and Author of LandlordSource ProductsJean Storms, MPM® is the founder/author of LandlordSource and has been a NARPM® member since January 1993.

Disclaimer: LandlordSource does not represent the article content in this website as legal advice. It is shared information only and up to the reader to use this information responsibly, seeking legal advice as necessary to their business.