Hoarding is defined as a mental health condition in which a person accumulates a growing mass of items, objects which may have absolutely no value. A person with hoarding disorder becomes emotionally overwhelmed at the prospect of having to get rid of excessively accumulated items, even what can fairly be categorized as trash or garbage. As a person’s hoarding behavior grows more severe, neighbors become impacted by everything from visually unappealing displays of trash and other items to foul odors to vermin of different types. A tenant with severe hoarding disorder can leave a neighbor or landlord wondering what can be done in regard to the hoarder.
Dealing With a Hoarding Neighbor
If you have a neighbor who is a severe hoarder and his or her activity is impacting your ability to enjoy or even live in your own property, there are steps you can take to attempt to address the nuisance created by a person who hoards
In all Southern California communities, on the county and city levels, there exist ordinances that address nuisances created on residential property. If you live next door or near a hoarder, such a bona fide nuisance very well may exist at that person’s residence. Thus, one legal step you can (and should) consider taking is reporting the hoarder and the property to the Southern California health department or similar city or county governmental authority. The governmental agency charged with addressing nuisances in any Southern California community is vested with legal authority to take action against a hoarder whose activity has created a nuisance at his or her house.
As a hoarding situation becomes more severe, the activity is likely to result in structural damage to a residence. This structural damage can prove to be very serious as time goes on. If that appears to be the case, you likely have another legal avenue available to you. You can report the property to the housing authority or comparable local Southern California governmental agency charged with enforcing housing codes.
In addition to seeking enforcement of the housing code, a hoarding situation at a neighbor’s residence may also give rise to fire code violations. Such a situation may permit you the ability to file a complaint with the fire marshal or similar governmental official. This type of report seeks to have the California state residential fire code enforced against the hoarding neighbor or to have the local equivalent of that code duly enforced.
If the hoarder is living in a rental property, as a neighbor you can reach out to the landlord and make clear that you intend to exert your rights pursuant to what is known as the covenant of quiet enjoyment. The covenant of quiet enjoyment is inferred or implied in any residential lease agreement in the state of California, including a verbal lease.
The covenant of quiet enjoyment vests upon a landlord the legal responsibility to protect a tenant from nuisances caused by other tenants but also to protect neighbors like you from nuisances created at the rental property by a tenant. In simple terms, if you make a bona fide complaint to a landlord that a neighboring tenant has created a nuisance at the rental premises, the landlord must notify the tenant of the need to eliminate the nuisance or vacate the premises. Technically speaking, the situation constitutes a violation of any California residential lease agreement.
If the tenant fails to remedy the nuisance, the landlord has the lawful authority to seek the eviction of the tenant. That involves filing an eviction action alleging the tenant is violating the lease agreement by creating and permitting to maintain a nuisance at the rental property. If the landlord fails to perform the duty of ensuring a tenant does not breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment, you may end up having a cause of action against the landlord.
If you have had a reasonable civil or even friendly relationship with your now-hoarding neighbor, you might want to consider taking a more informal approach to addressing the situation. In this regard, if you have a means of contacting your neighbor’s family members, you might reach out to them and explain the situation at hand. Let them know you need to have the situation addressed and you would like to achieve this objective without taking formal legal action.
If there exist no supportive family members, or if they are uninterested in aiding in addressing the situation with your hoarding neighbor, you can also consider contacting California Adult Protective Services. Depending on the age or the physical and mental health of your neighbor, this agency might be able to step in and assist in remedying the hoarding situation. The agency can be contacted via the link set forth in this paragraph.
Dealing With a Hoarding Tenant
If you’re a landlord with a hoarding tenant, you have the same types of legal recourse discussed a moment ago in the section focused on a hoarding neighbor. As a landlord, you have a direct civil recourse available to you.
As was mentioned, any California residential lease agreement – written or verbal – has an implied provision that a tenant cannot permit the existence of a nuisance of any type that interferes with the rights of neighboring property owners to quietly or peacefully enjoy their homes. Thus, a nuisance created by your tenant at your rental property constitutes a violation of lease terms.
In addition, if you’ve used a written lease, that contract likely contains a provision requiring your tenant to maintain the premises in a reasonably clean condition. A severe hoarding situation would constitute a violation of such a lease agreement.
The first step is to provide a written notice to your tenant directing that individual to rectify the hoarding situation within the time period specified by California landlord and tenant law. Under California law, a landlord has the ability to give a tenant a 3-day notice to correct the violation of lease terms or move.
In the case of a tenant that has caused damage to the premises or created a nuisance because of hoarding, a landlord can give the tenant a 3-day unconditional notice to vacate the property.
Odds are that a tenant will not comply with such a notice to vacate the premises. Thus, a landlord will need to initiate an eviction case in court to have the tenant removed from the property.
The Aftermath of a Hoarding Tenant
As a landlord, you are likely to face a catastrophe at your rental property if a person with hoarding disorder lived in the premises. And a catastrophe is not an overly dramatic term. The amount of garbage and other items in and around the premises are likely to be overwhelming. In addition, as a hoarding situation progresses, a biohazardous situation is likely to exist at the residence. This type of dangerous situation necessitates professional biohazard remediation.