By Beth Mulcahy, Esq.
There is a growing problem in community associations – owners who hoard books, newspapers, trash, knick-knacks, furniture, scrap metal, animals, rotting food and everything in between. The problem is common and has been identified as a serious behavioral illness. “Hoarders” are usually isolated and suffer from the psychological issues that produce the clinical definition of hoarding, which is “retaining items of no value in quantities that interfere with the victim’s ability to function”. The effect of this creates a fire danger, structural problems to the home, health risks and additional problems for the hoarder, their family, often the neighbors and the association.
“Hoarders” are people whose piles of debris impair their own lives and, potentially, the lives of those around them. Set forth below are a few general guidelines for boards and associations dealing with “hoarders”:
Talk to the Owner: Before taking action, talk to the unit/lot owner. If the “hoarder” is a renter, the owner may want to consider eviction proceedings. If the owner is the “hoarder”, talk with them and possibly their relatives (if the association has their contact information). The relatives might not be aware of the situation. The board may consider offering volunteer clean-up help, (by third parties, not associated with the board) but, please note that an offer of help is typically not accepted by a clinical “hoarder”.
Look for Resources to Help: A source of help may be the municipality the hoarder lives in. Municipalities have neighborhood programs and code enforcement personnel that could offer information.
If the clutter posses a potential health code violation contact the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department at 602.506.6616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The department may send an inspector, issue a citation to the owner ordering a clean-up and take further action if the owner does not comply. From the association’s perspective, it is easier and less expensive to have a third party work with the hoarder. Additionally, since this is dealing with a mental condition, professionals are better equipped to handle the situation. Please Google, The Arizona Hoarding Task Force, a nonprofit, to find a multitude of services offered to hoarders, their families and those concerned.
Enforce Association Documents: The provisions that will most likely come into play are those prohibiting “nuisances” and requiring owners to maintain clean and sanitary conditions in their residences. But, the board must have a tangible basis for acting. Clutter on/in the owner’s property must be visible from the exterior or it must pose a potential danger to the health or safety of other residents. A starting point would be for the board or management company to send a violation letter and, if the problem persists, then refer the matter to the association’s attorney.
File a Lawsuit: This can be the most expensive option; evidence must show that the hoarding situation poses an imminent threat and courts are reluctant to intervene.
Whatever action the board takes, it is important to remember that “hoarding” is an illness first and a violation of the community’s rules second. Focusing on the owner’s need for help as well as on the need to enforce the community’s rules may produce a faster and more long-lasting solution to the problem.
If your association requires assistance or has questions regarding this topic please contact our firm.