How Can Your NYC Condo or Co-op Handle Hoarding and Hoarders?

Stacks of newspapers. Piles of old clothing. Bags of cans. Old containers. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is a popular adage that can be taken to a disturbing extreme.

Hoarding disorder occurs in an estimated 2 to 6% of the population and often leads to serious distress and problems functioning, according to the American Psychiatric Association. If left unaddressed, residents in your condominium or cooperative who suffer from this debilitating disorder can become a hazard to their neighbors, the building, and themselves.

Uncovering Hoarding in Your Condo or Co-op
It may not be apparent that a resident is a hoarder. These individuals are often reluctant to allow anyone into their units, even when repairs and maintenance are needed. They are usually embarrassed by their living conditions and feel guilty that they have let their unit become unsanitary and cluttered.

The first sign that a hoarder lives in the building frequently comes from residents of neighboring apartments complaining about odors, infestations or leaks. No two hoarders are alike, so training staff to notice the signs of hoarding will help detect those residents before the condition gets out of hand.

Once it has become apparent that a resident is a hoarder, the board and management must take action to ensure the resident’s safety. The board of a cooperative has an obligation to resolve the matter or it risks breaching the warranty of habitability inherent in each proprietary lease. That inherent right is designed to prevent detrimental effects on the lifestyle of other residents and protect their property values too. The issue is more challenging for the board of a condominium. However, owners are obligated to comply with by-laws and house rules. Of course, in any type of property, management should enforce the building rules.
A person who suffers from a hoarding disorder deserves compassion, but not at the expense of neighbors who are enduring the unsanitary living conditions caused by the illness.
 
Taking Initial Action on Hoarding in Your Condo or Co-op
The resident manager or property manager should make the first contact with the hoarder in a sensitive and empathetic manner. By personally establishing rapport with the hoarder, he or she may be more willing to cooperate.

If this initial conversation does not prompt action, a letter should be sent asking the hoarder to clear his or her home. Bear in mind, however, that most hoarders will not respond to this written notice. Note, that if the hoarder is not the apartment owner, but a tenant, the communications should be directed through the apartment owner.
Some property managers have found that offering something in return, such as agreeing to paint the living room once the apartment is cleared, helps to get results. Offering an incentive can be seen as extending an olive branch and may speed up the cleaning process and avoid other costs that might be incurred if the hoarding continues.
 
An expression of concern for the hoarder’s safety is likely to be more productive than direct criticism of the state of the unit. Avoid using trigger words such as “trash” or “junk.” Confirm that the hoarder is aware of the state in which he or she is living.

Bringing in help to manage hoarding in your condo or co-op
When possible, reach out to someone who is listed as an emergency contact or neighbors who may be able to provide help and support in the efforts to get the hoarder to make the unit habitable. Hoarders, at times, isolate themselves from family or friends, so it is advisable to consider reaching out to a social worker or other professional who can help if no one else is available or willing to assist.

Enlisting the help of professionals is highly recommended, such as contacting Adult Protective Services (APS) via their online referral portal. APS provides assistance to adults 18 and older who, because of mental or physical impairments, are unable to protect themselves from neglect or hazardous situations without assistance from others and have no one available who is willing and able to responsibly assist. APS caseworkers conduct home visits to complete assessments, determine eligibility, and implement services when appropriate.

New York Senator Liz Krueger enlisted a team of experts on this topic to produce Best Practices for Clutter & Hoarding. Clutterers Anonymous offers help to hoarders directly, including hosting meetings and providing resources. Hoarders No More: NYC is a self-help group that holds regular meetings in Manhattan. Having the support of others gives many hoarders motivation.
In part 2 of this series, we’ll talk more about working with hoarders in your condo or co-op, including how to take drastic measures if needed.