Posted over 7 years ago

How to Handle Hoarders


Hoarding is a problem that was noted as far back as the 14th century, though it has only recently gained the national spotlight with the A & E show, Hoarders. It has brought the problem right into all of our living rooms, at least for those of us who can stomach watching. Home decluttering company Address our Mess says its research shows that about 5 of every 100 people is prone to hoarding and that most hoarders are males over the age of 40. An interesting part of the whole problem is the unnatural attachment these people seem to have to the excessive amounts of possessions they have.

As of May 1st, hoarding is officially recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. It is important for landlords to understand how this new designation affects them, their property and their tenants. Hoarders are now a protected class for all intents and purposes, but landlords still need to be able to protect their property from damage as well.

Handling a hoarding tenant

Understanding that hoarding is related to obsessive compulsive disorder and is now deemed a mental disorder means that you cannot expect the hoarding tenant to have the capacity to resolve his or her situation without help. Aside from some psychological help, this might include professional cleaning and organizing services.

Be careful not to make statements or take any actions that could possibly be called discriminatory, but instead focus strictly on the conditions of the property that are the result of the actions they have taken. For instance, if they are breaking fire codes or building codes, that is cause for eviction for breaching their lease contract. Interfering with emergency exits, sprinkler systems or heating and air conditioning vents would be examples of those types of things. Storing things that are dangerous, like flammable liquids, in improper ways can also be a problem.

When you realize you have a problem, whether that is due to a complaint from a neighbor or you see it firsthand during a repair visit, you should start documenting the conditions. Let the tenant know that the property must be kept in a proper way, and give the tenant a little time to fix things. Also consult a lawyer versed in real estate to make sure you do things the right way, in case you ultimately need to evict. You probably also should call your local fire department and building inspectors as well so they can check for violations and document conditions. You might also help the tenant find competent professional assistance.

Some landlords deal with hoarders by ignoring the problem; they realize turnover will be expensive when they do move, but the steady rent money (and security deposit) in the meantime can help to offset those costs. Hoarders do not like to move!


    Obviously, it would be best to only rent to people who will keep your place squeaky clean. How do you make sure of that, given the classification of hoarding as a mental disorder? The answer is to be even more vigilant in your tenant screening process. Being proactive before you rent to someone will save you lots of grief in the long run.

No hoarder's database exists yet, though it likely will happen relatively soon. In the mean time, thorough phone calls to the current and previous landlords can tell a property owner a lot about a potential tenant. BUT this is huge now that hoarding is a protected class—you cannot deny a rental based simply on the fact that someone told you he was a hoarder. After all, that is pretty subjective and everyone's definition of a “hoarder” is not the same. For instance, is someone a hoarder if they keep all of their bill statements for years and years? It may be odd, but if they do it neatly, it does not impact your property. On the other hand, people who disrupt other tenants and neighbors with overflowing junk and foul odors can be a real problem. The key is to find out the exact problems the landlord noted.

It is perfectly legal for a rental property owner to consider all relevant bits of data when screening tenants; this includes any records of problems, property damage, living habits and housekeeping issues. All of this means you need to ask the follow up questions that should come to mind when a landlord says a tenant was a hoarder—Was your property damaged? Did you have problems with health and safety of the other tenants or neighbors? Document the call and ask the specific questions that will net you the important answers!

Your lease agreement must have a clause about housekeeping standards to protect your property. Firm guidelines about what people can or cannot do are vital-- no major storage near windows, doors or stairs, as well as near vent systems and appliances. No hoarding of flammable, explosive or perishable items. Each of the property's rooms must be clean enough for use as they are meant to be. Stressing safety concerns and your strict policy might help people to comply with the rules and keep things neat, for their own sake and yours as well.

Denise Gabbard is a professional writer that frequently works with Stephen White, CEO of RentPrep (Fidelis Screening Solutions) a tenant screening service.