Anyone who is a landlord or property manager knows, all tenants have legal rights that must be afforded them and any violations on your part will work against you. Most landlords do their best to screen potential tenants and this works a great majority of the time, but there are situations that can slip through the cracks. The situation being discussed in this article is how to deal with hoarders, especially when hoarder tenants aren’t discovered until they have signed a lease or rental agreement. After someone moves in, the law is even stricter and must be obeyed to avoid a whirlwind of greater issues, so this is important for all property managers to understand.
So why not start with the basics, when it comes to hoarding tenants.
Let’s Be Clear About What Hoarding Is…
Hoarding is a mental disorder, therefore it can be claimed as a disability. This is clearly recognized by the American Psychiatric Association since hoarding disorder was added into the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and first published on May 18, 2013.
The DSM is used as a classification and diagnostic tool by the APA. In the United States this publication is has been updated five times since first issued. The DSM is considered the universal authority concerning all psychiatric diagnoses, treatment recommendations, payments from national health care providers, codes for insurance claim adjusters, and as a reference for case managers working with disability claims. This is not your average mental health guidebook, it is the go to for all supreme decisions including what is discrimination and fair actions in housing, welfare, and employment.
The decision to add the new classification of hoarding disorder dates back originally to 2012, over a year before the actual DSM-V edition would be updated. So the standards that validate hoarding disorder as a disability are rock solid and landlords need to understand that any violations concerning people with this condition can lead to a discrimination lawsuit. This would also be backed up by the federal Fair Housing Act.
Why you may ask? Because disposophobia (otherwise known by the public as hoarding disorder) meets the definition of a disability. Hoarding is considered to be caused by an impairment mentally. This impairment causes massive limitations upon one or more life activities for the average person. It is very easy to infringe on a tenant’s legal rights for reasonable accommodations when taking actions to protect housing or apartment rentals as a landlord.
Protected Class Tenants
Disposophobia falls into the area of protected class tenancies. These classified tenant protections impact people already living in a unit, anyone new who is submitting applications for tenancy, and also those people going through the tenant screening process. Protected class status applies to anyone who qualifies for disability, based on their individual mental or physical health conditions.
According to the Federal Fair Housing Act, national equal housing considerations must be afforded all people that are members of a protected class. Some generally understood classes include families with children, national origins, religion, gender, color, race, and of course disabilities. All tenants must qualify for the disability status under the APA guidelines, but once this has been achieved, their status is upheld by the FFHA.
For example, many landlords have screening guidelines that do not allow any convicted felons or illegal drug users to live on their properties. This is fine, but if the drug addict went to prison on a felony charge, then got treatment and stayed in a rehabilitation program, they can file for disability for abuse of substances. At this point, the reformed drug user is not required to reveal the crimes committed, being a felon, or have been a drug addict. All this data is legally protected by virtue of being on disability, but the landlord will even be obligated to respect them legally and cannot evict the tenant based on a later discovery about their true past.
This type of disability is sometimes legitimate, while in other instances it is a person taking slick interpretations of the law and using them advantageously. This is considered the case by many landlords and legal counsel concerning hoarding.
The FFHA laws say, “Hoarders, as persons with disabilities, have the right to request a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a request for a waiver or change in policies, practices, procedures and services to provide equal access and opportunity in housing for persons with disabilities. There must be a direct connection between the person’s disability and the reasonable accommodation request.”
What to Can Be Done About Hoarding Tenants?
Depending on their general behavior, the appearance of hoarding itself might or might not constitute an actual breach of contract within the guidelines of a lease, although it could be grounds to start the eviction process. Still, a tenant cannot be evicted for hoarding unless it can be seen and reported as another action or violation.
The situation is made easier if the tenant contract is very clear about certain guidelines. As a landlord or property manager, you are allowed to draft and revise the stipulations of any contract, as long as you make it apply to all the tenants in your building or apartment complex. Since it is a thin line between extra dirty tenants and hoaders, here are some recommendations for an extra air tight lease or rental contract.
First of all, make sure to clearly list in the lease, all of the actions that would cause a tenant to default or violate the contract being signed. Besides failure to pay rent, it is possible to specifically add and mention these items:
– Blocking emergency exits
– Directly damaging to the property
– Storing potentially explosive materials
– Interfering with ventilation or sprinkler systems
– Housing animals in a way that breaks the law or lease agreement
– Keeping perishable goods in a manner that could attract mold or rodents
Also, it is a smart suggestion to make professional carpet cleaning mandatory and the responsibility of all tenants when they move out. This can be done by requiring additional fees that go towards paying for such services. Or make all tenants pay an additional set of fees for mandatory professional maid services that automatically come into the unit or apartment once a week. Again this is fair and not discriminatory, but it is not legal unless required of all tenants.
Later, if a tenant does any of these items, you should send said tenant a notice to remedy the problem or quit violating their contract. If the tenant doesn’t fix it, then a landlord could terminate the lease, and proceed to evict them for the specific violations, none of which would be directly related to hoarding. Even hoarders, whether on disability or not, are not allowed to block any emergency fire exits. This being a prime example of how wording things right can save landlords and property managers a lot of arguments and efforts.
Having a Landlord Action Plan
In all situations, especially hoarding tenants, an action plan is a real tool in your skill set. If your lease or rental contract is soundly written, then all that needs to be done is follow these step by step courses of action. As the tenant violates the contractual agreements, take the steps necessary to legally show you did everything you could in the situation and even offered assistance. If the tenant is a true hoarding violator and not just a messy pack rat type, this will be your ace in the hole.
In all circumstances, evicting a hoarder is a long road, but it can be done.
The first thing to consider is safety. If the hoarding tenant is creating an unsafe environment then they are violating the terms of the lease and can be removed under that premise. If it’s just messy enough to be a housekeeping issue, then you can still evict eventually, but there’s a process for you to follow. Not doing so will only work against you as a landlord or property manager. Making things easier on yourself is not always the goal, but it isn’t necessary to put a noose around your own neck, but only figuratively speaking.
Remember that going the fire hazard and safety route is usually best. It allows you to document, then create a schedule for inspection and follow up. If the safety concerns are not fixed, termination of the lease would be the next step. Just be sure to document everything and take pictures.
Follow these steps emphatically and all should be well:
1. Document everything as it happens. Take time to make notes on every detail from the day a tenant moves in, until the day they leave. Documents about the property conditions can be gathered by taking pictures, making videos, and keeping notes in a daily property diary or notebook.
2. Offer to help with any and all cleanup that is needed. This is annoying and gives you a chance to assess the situation as things progress. You can even offer the hoarder help in getting professional counseling and services to assist with clean up and trash removal.
3. Give problematic tenants notice, as soon as a violation and unwillingness to remedy it have been demonstrated. By putting the tenant on notice and being quick about giving them the opportunity to remedy the situation, your legal leverage becomes increasingly secured as a landlord.
4. Be sure to secure yourself sound legal advice as a landlord or property manager. Consulting with an attorney is the second to the last step, if the conditions do not change in the time specified in your lease or rental contract.
5. Finally, the eviction process can begin, after following through with all the above steps. Granted it is best to only proceed with an eviction if necessary, but by this point it probably already is clear that eviction is the only sane option.
Don’t feel guilty, there is nothing more you can do and it is not your responsibility to make hoarding tenants follow their contractual rules. It is their place to live that is in jeopardy, so no more kid gloves. You are doing the right thing. Sometimes tough love is hard to the people who need it the most.
When it comes to hoarding tenants it would be best if you could simply screen them out before they ever moved in. This is a touchy area because it is hard to actually do without breaking any interpretation of the laws discussed throughout this article. Still, it is possible to be a decent landlord or property manager without letting a single hoarder or a group of hoarding tenants make your living spaces unlivable. It just requires being firm and following a plan of action, when things get tough.
So stick to your guns and make your property management life all the easier.
Share this Image On Your Site