On some level, hoarding can be considered something of cancer. Hoarding disorder is not akin to a heart attack in that it is not something that comes on suddenly. Rather, like cancer, hoarding disorder develops and becomes worse over time. Eventually, a person with severe hoarding disorder will have a house that cannot contain the accumulated “stuff” in the interior. A hoarder’s possessions begin to spill out around the exterior of a house, oftentimes including the front yard. This scenario raises a fair question: Is it legal for a person with hoarding disorder to place items on his or her front lawn?
As is oftentimes the case when a legal question is raised, the answer is nuanced and is not necessarily a simple yes or no. In the case of a hoarder’s possession spilling onto the front lawn, in many instances, this will end up being unlawful. However, as will be discussed in more detail in a moment, the specific circumstances surrounding a particular situation in which a hoarder’s possessions end up on the front lawn govern whether there will exist any violations of the law.
Legal Schemes That Render a Hoarder’s Possessions on the Front Lawn Impermissible
The phrase “legal schemes that render a hoarder’s possessions on the front lawn impermissible” understandably sounds like a bunch of legal gobbledygook – and it should. The reality is that the manner in which a hoarder’s possessions on a front lawn can be regulated involves more than just “the law.” The following regulatory schemes can render a hoarder’s possessions on his or her front law impermissible:
- State law
- County codes
- City ordinances
- Homeowners association rules and regs
- Lease agreements
There exist a number of different states, county, and city laws that can be used to prohibit the presence of possessions on a hoarder’s front lawn. However, the regulation of this type of situation doesn’t end there and extends to the rules and regs established by a homeowners association or HOA, if one exists in a particular neighborhood. In addition, if a hoarder is a tenant, the governing lease agreement may prohibit the presence of possessions on a front lawn.
As noted, there are different types of laws that do govern what can and cannot happen on residential front lawns. What is not against the law is hoarding itself. The act of hoarding is not unlawful; the results of hoarding can be in some situations. The types of legal regulations that render some conduct of hoarders’ illegal govern include laws restricting possessions on a front lawn.
Health Code Violations
One set of legal restrictions that can prohibit a hoarder’s possessions from spilling onto a front lawn are what broadly can be called health code violations. The accumulation of certain types of items maintained by a hoarder on a front lawn can either contain hazardous substances or create situations in which a health hazard can occur. For example, what ends up on a hoarder’s front lawn may contain biohazardous substances. On the other hand, the items a hoarder ends up placed on a front yard may not be hazardous in and of themselves. Rather, they might be attractive to something that is hazardous, like rodents or other vermin.
The presence of certain types of items that a hoarder permits to spill onto a front lawn can end up creating nuisance in violation of the law. Nuisance violations are broader than those associated with health code infractions. A nuisance need not be something that jeopardizes the health and welfare of people in the neighborhood. Rather, a nuisance is something that hampers the ability of others to enjoy their properties and the neighborhood.
A nuisance can include something that presents a health risk. However, a nuisance can also be something that offends a person’s sense of smell or sight. Simply, junk piled in a front yard may stink and look horrible – scenarios which constitute a violation of applicable nuisance laws.
Fire Code Violations
Another area in which a hoarder’s possessions accumulating on a front lawn might break the law is in the realm of fire code violations. Odds are strong that a hoarder is in violation of the fire code inside a residence, but these violations can extend to items accumulating outside a building as well. For example, the accumulation of any type of flammable items on a front lawn in and of themselves can constitute a fire code violation.
Housing Code Violations
A prime set of legal restrictions that come into play when a hoarder begins to place “stuff” on a front law are those associated with housing code violations. In addition to the placement of certain types of possessions or objects on the front lawn, a person with severe hoarding disorder is also likely to have a residence in disrepair. Odds are strong that the state of the physical structure of a residence itself would also result in housing code violations.
Maintenance Code Violations
Local communities oftentimes have codes or ordinances that govern maintaining the exterior of residential property. These codes can cover everything from properly maintaining a lawn to regulating what can and cannot be placed outside a residence, particularly on a front lawn in view of neighbors and others.
HOA Rules and Regs
Beyond legal restrictions of the types presented here, if a hoarder’s residence is in a neighborhood or community with an HOA, the rules and regs of that organization are likely to specifically prohibit the placement of a hoarder’s possessions on the exterior of a residence. Indeed, some HOAs have become more proactive and aggressive when it comes to dealing with hoarding issues. A growing number of HOAs have implemented rules and regs that permit them to take corrective action when a hoarding situation has progressed to the point that the livability of the interior of a residence is impaired but before possessions have started to spill out onto the lawn.
Lease agreements are apt to have specific provisions regarding what a tenant can do in the way of placing possessions on the front lawn of a residence. Armed with this type of provision, a landlord can seek the eviction of a tenant that begins to place possessions on a front lawn in violation of lease terms.
In order to abate a hoarding situation, attempting to enforce the law oftentimes is not enough to resolve an issue. In fact, it nearly never is enough. Although legal enforcement of some type of statute or code provision may temporarily abate a hoarding problem that extended beyond the walls of a house onto the front lawn, absent addressing the underlying mental health disorder afflicting a person with hoarding disorder, the problem is highly likely to reoccur.