Steps to Working with Hoarders in Your Condo or Co-Op

How Can Your Condo or Co-Op Work with Hoarders?
In part 1 of this series on hoarding in condos and co-ops, we discussed how to identify hoarders and the kinds of help you might be able to connect hoarders with, including self-help groups, non-profits and government agencies. Hoarding is potentially dangerous to everyone in your building, and as board members, you may need to take more direct action to keep everyone safe. How can you do that while remaining respectful and empathetic?

Working with a Hoarder in Your Condo or Co-op
Hoarding is protected under the Fair Housing Act, so your board must provide reasonable accommodations for the hoarder — including providing appropriate time to clean out the unit. Consult with appropriate government agencies, such as New York City’s Adult Protective Services, and your building’s legal counsel to make sure that your timeframes and other requests fit the definition of “reasonable accommodations.”

The proprietary lease should include provisions that obligate shareholders to keep their unit habitable and free of any potential safety issues. It is often to the board’s benefit to seek legal counsel to better understand the legal remedies if “negotiations” fail.

From your initial encounter with a potential hoarder, it is important to document every visit and conversation pertaining to the matter. Be empathetic but realistic. Help the hoarder create a plan and set achievable goals to begin to clean the unit or enlist the help of an organization to come in and work with the hoarder directly.  

Use very specific language when presenting a hoarder with the actions to be taken. Position the actions as a matter of safety for the hoarder and others in the building. For example, require that the hoarder “Clear a 36-inch pathway from the entry to the bedroom within 24 to 48 hours.” (36 inches is the minimum width required for a stretcher.) Discuss with the hoarder what may be the most dangerous area in the unit and have him or her agree to address that area first. It’s important that the actions be realistic and achievable in the timeframe given.

Following Up with a Hoarder in Your Building  
Just as the items the hoarder has accumulated did not appear overnight, this problem cannot be solved in one day. The cleaning of a hoarder’s unit is generally a slow process and must be taken one step at a time, again with empathy throughout the process.

Follow up visits will be necessary. Continue to document everything. The hoarder will be in a constant battle with this disability, so patience is key. Be aware of his or her breaking point. You want to keep the progress moving forward and if a hoarder is pushed too quickly or aggressively, he or she may return to their hoarding habits or develop greater challenges at resolving the situation in the unit.

Evicting or Removing a Hoarder from Your Building
Eviction is a last resort for cooperatives. If the hoarder refuses to comply with building and safety codes and is continuously causing damage to the unit, you should consult legal counsel to explore all other options before seeking to evict.

Condominiums have a more difficult path when dealing with a unit owner, but again, the best advice is to consult legal counsel early in the process, so your board is aware of all the options. It’s a difficult decision to make and undertake; exhaust all other possibilities before going down this path.
 
Remember that hoarding is a disorder. Hoarders have little control over their behavior, and it can take a long time to undo the damage of hoarding to a unit and the person living in it. Some of our property managers have successfully resolved scores of hoarding issues and offer the following tips:
  1. Document every conversation and visit with the hoarder.
  2. In mild cases, offering the hoarder a storage unit may help to alleviate the hazardous clutter.
  3. Be patient. Resolving a hoarding issue will take time.
  4. Be empathetic and remember that you are dealing with someone with a disability.
  5. Use very specific language when presenting a violation.
  6. Reach out to a family member, social worker or other professional who can provide help and support.
  7. Consider seeking intervention from Adult Protective Services.
  8. Help the hoarder set realistic goals for cleaning the unit.
  9. Have the hoarder address the most dangerous area(s) of the unit first.
  10. Explore all other options before seeking to evict.
  11. Legal action often will be required to compel action. Getting counsel involved from the outset will be beneficial in the long run.
Thankfully, hoarding isn’t common, but your board needs to be prepared if the situation arises. To learn about other issues boards face and how to address them, check out our resource library today!