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How to deal with a Boston apartment hoarder

I recently, obtained a new Boston apartment listing to rent. When my agent went to review the apartment he was shocked the condition of the apartment.

Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that can have significant implications for both the individual and the surrounding community. By understanding the unique challenges faced by hoarders and implementing appropriate strategies, property managers can create safe and habitable living environments while upholding the principles of fair housing.

Understanding Hoarding Disorder:

According to the International OCD Foundation, it is estimated that 2-6% of the U.S. population, or approximately 6 to 18 million people, struggle with hoarding disorder. Hoarding disorder is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their value, resulting in the accumulation of excessive clutter.

It affects people from all walks of life, irrespective of age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Hoarders often experience intense emotional attachments to their belongings, leading to extreme anxiety or distress when faced with the prospect of disposal. This psychological condition can pose serious health and safety risks, such as fire hazards, structural damage, pest infestations, and unsanitary living conditions.

Identifying Hoarding Behavior:
  • Cluttered Living Spaces: Hoarders typically exhibit excessively cluttered living spaces, making it difficult to navigate through rooms or access basic amenities.
  • Restricted Living Areas: Hoarders may confine themselves to certain areas of their dwelling due to the overwhelming clutter in other parts of the property.
  • Neglected Maintenance: Hoarded properties often suffer from neglected maintenance, such as broken appliances, faulty wiring, plumbing issues, and blocked ventilation.
  • Unusual Odors: Accumulated clutter can emit unpleasant odors, resulting from the presence of rotting food, mold, mildew, or animal waste.
  • Distressed Social Relationships: Hoarding can strain relationships with neighbors due to increased noise, pests, or odors, potentially leading to complaints and disputes.
Legal Considerations and Fair Housing:

While hoarding disorder is a recognized mental health condition, property managers must navigate legal obligations under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including mental health conditions. Hoarding disorder may qualify as a disability under the FHA, thus requiring reasonable accommodations to be provided to affected residents.

Best Practices for Managing Hoarding Situations:

Early Intervention: Act promptly upon identifying hoarding behavior by engaging in open and non-confrontational communication with the resident. Express concerns about safety and property damage while maintaining empathy and respect.

Reasonable Accommodations: Consult with legal counsel to determine appropriate and reasonable accommodations that can help hoarders maintain a safe living environment without disrupting other residents or violating local health and safety regulations.

Referrals and Support: Connect residents with hoarding disorder to appropriate mental health professionals, support groups, or local social services agencies that specialize in hoarding disorder treatment.

Regular Inspections: Conduct periodic inspections of the property to ensure compliance with health and safety standards. Collaborate with the resident to develop an agreed-upon inspection schedule that respects their privacy while addressing potential risks.

Documentation: Maintain comprehensive records of communication, inspections, and any actions taken to address hoarding-related issues. This documentation is crucial for demonstrating good faith efforts and compliance with fair housing regulations.

The economic impact of hoarding extends beyond individual households. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, hoarding-related costs in the United States were estimated at $50 billion annually, encompassing expenses related to health care, social services, and property damage.

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Boston Apartment Renter Hoarder

When you see signs of a hoarder, you urgently need to get a third party involved who will act for the benefit of the landlord in an urgent way,

This kind of behavior presents a danger to the occupant of the apartment as well as other residents in the building by creating a fire hazard and very often attracting pests like cockroaches and rodents. 

In most cases, the hoarder is not aware that their living arrangement is presenting problems for the rest of the building. 

Hoarding is a mental illness 

The condition of hoarding was also once known as Collyers Syndrome, named after two brothers who died in their home in Harlem in the late 1940s when the junk they’d collected over 40 years collapsed on them. 

It’s very common for hoarders to collect old newspapers, magazines, and items so the apartment will often be piled floor to ceiling with stacked material, leaving just a small pathway to get through the space. 

Getting access to the apartment

The landlord has the right to gain access to the apartment. The landlord has a right to gain access to look at the condition of the apartment and consider the best way to eliminate bad odors and pests ect. 

A Boston apartment lease will outline the notice you need to give for access. Usually reasonable notice is 24 or 48 hours. 

More often than not, letters to the Boston apartment renter and notices will be ignored, in which case you may have to compel access via the court. This involves seeking a court order to gain access.

How to avoid the court process

Involving a third party to help 

While an eviction proceeding is an option for the landlord another option can be a third party. 

In some cases a landlord can seek the help of a family member or relative who can persuade the renter that they need to clear the junk from the apartment and give it a thorough cleaning. 

Another option, that I’ve seen is where the landlord pays the renter a few thousand dollars to move-out.

if it was me, I would contact a lawyer who specializes in real estate law to view your legal options.

Updated: Boston Real Estate Blog 2023

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