| | Hoarding disorder
is a distinct mental disability defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) as follows:
- The disorder is characterized by the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.
- The behavior usually has harmful effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for the person suffering from the disorder and family members.
- For individuals who hoard, the quantity of their collected items sets them apart from people with normal collecting behaviors. They accumulate a large number of possessions that often fill up or clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible.
More about Hoarding Disorder
- Hoarding disorder is estimated to affect 6 to 15 million people nationally. By comparison, Alzheimer’s disease affects 4 million people.
- Hoarding creates health and safety issues, including fire hazards, infestations, and structural problems.
- People with hoarding disorder often go undetected for months or even years. In apartment communities, they are often “discovered” when property staff must enter the unit or a neighboring resident complains of offensive odors or other issues.
- People with hoarding disorder often do not report maintenance issues. The lack of corrective maintenance leads to further damage to the unit.
What You Should Do
- Because it is a disability, people with hoarding disorder must be accommodated in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. While they usually do not request a reasonable accommodation, it is still your responsibility to accommodate, since the disability is likely apparent and thus warrants protection under the Fair Housing Act regardless of the resident’s request for an accommodation.
- Do not immediately evict. Search for solutions to the necessity to protect the property and accommodate the resident.
- Consult an attorney who specializes in fair housing issues as soon as possible.
- Plan an inspection visit, and take notes on immediate fire and safety hazards, as well as damages to the unit.
- Gain the resident’s trust by treating the matter with sensitivity and compassion. Do not use words like “junk,” “trash,” or “mess” to describe the person’s belongings.
- Make sure that property staff, including maintenance professionals, understand that the situation is a fair housing issue and that they must treat the matter with due sensitivity.
- Require immediate action if the resident is hoarding animals or explosives, blocking emergency exits or sprinklers, or directly damaging the unit.
- Consider, as a reasonable accommodation, developing an individualized remedy plan that requires the resident to obtain support services and clean the unit.
- The remedy plan should require cleaning over the course of several months. Require immediate removal of fire and safety hazards, and allow for more time to remedy less hazardous items.
- Include in the remedy plan regular inspections to verify progress.
- Document, document, document! Document the remedy plan in a voluntary written agreement. Try to obtain a signature on the agreement from the resident. If the resident will not sign the agreement, send a follow-up letter stating what has been agreed upon, with an acknowledgement of receipt for the resident to return. Also document each and every conversation and interaction with the resident, and all other activities related to the matter.
- Do not try to provide support services yourself. You may, however, want to provide the resident with a list of support services and clean-up professionals. As another possible accommodation, you may hire a cleaning service at the resident’s expense.
- Consider providing trash bins and/or a dumpster for the resident.
- Consider a short-term truck rental for the removal of the discarded items as sometimes the resident will go back to the trash bins or dumpster to retrieve them.
- After the resident complies with the remedy plan, conduct brief check-ins to verify continued cooperation. Remember that the disorder does not go away after the unit is cleaned.
- If the resident does not comply with the remedy plan after repeated efforts, consult with your attorney to consider eviction proceedings.
Check out these resources for more information on hoarding and other fair housing issues: