Hoarding in Condo Associations: What Can A Board Do About It?
The popular television show, "Hoarders: Buried Alive" on A&E has brought much-needed attention to the issue of compulsive hoarding. The Mayo Clinic refers to compulsive hoarding as a mental health disorder that impacts a person's ability to let go of items, no matter what their value. When hoarding occurs in a condo association, other property owners are put at risk of serious harm. Dealing with an association member who is a hoarder requires a basic understanding of the disorder, the potential harm to others, and the proper steps to address the problem.
What is Hoarding?
Compulsive hoarding affects approximately 6 million people in the United States—roughly 2 percent of the population. It is defined as "retaining items of no value in quantities that interfere with the ability to function." The condition runs from mild to severe.
Clutter covers countertops and floors often limit walking to narrow paths through the condo. The clutter builds in such a way that many rooms become unusable. Symptoms of hoarding include:
- A build-up of food or trash, creating unsanitary conditions
- Disorganized piles, making it difficult to find important items
- Conflict with anyone who tries to remove the clutter
Most hoarders are reluctant to part with any items, making it an emotional and aggravating situation for everyone involved.
How Can It Affect Other Condo Owners?
Hoarding presents serious health and safety issues for other condo owners. Living in close proximity to a hoarder can place a resident at risk for rodents, mold, or fire.
Combustible material stacked high, combined with faulty wiring, is a fire hazard for any condo association. Additionally, firefighters may have a difficult time fighting the fire due to an inability to attain full access to the source.
Hoarding often extends past an association member's interior walls and onto their patio or deck. Dirty collections of miscellaneous items, visible from the parking lot, project a negative and can affect the property values.
What Can a Condo Board Do, If Anything, About It?
If an association suspects a member is a compulsive hoarder, the board can take the following steps to begin addressing the problem:
1. Speak with the condo owner. This is an important first step for the board, although it is usually not successful in correcting the problem. Most hoarders do not feel they are doing anything wrong. Avoiding a confrontational approach is best when first communicating with the hoarder about the situation.
2. If the owner does not take action after your initial contact, the board, or an attorney, should send the hoarder a letter. The letter serves as written notification that they are violating the nuisance and provisions in the association's covenants. Include supporting evidence, like photos of the condo and copies of citations from local officials. The timeline should include a deadline for the clean-up efforts.
3. When the owner doesn't respond to the official notice, then the board may want to consider non-binding arbitration. This allows the board to obtain an order to have the unit cleaned. The board must make a persuasive case for the dangers imposed on others by the hoarder's actions.
There is no quick fix when dealing with a compulsive hoarder. If possible, try reaching out to their friends and family members for help. By working together, perhaps a solution is possible that creates a healthier and safer environment for all.
A resident issue like that of compulsive hoarding can have a negative impact on your condo association. RealManage offers professional property management that can guide your association through a variety of challenges and toward successful outcomes.
RealManage can help your association board when it comes to enforcing covenants fairly and consistently. For more information about our services, contact us today.