Is Hoarding a Mental Disability?
According to DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), hoarding is stated to be a mental disability. This disability has the following characteristics:
• The person finds it extremely difficult to part with or discard possessions, irrespective of their value.
• Hoarders can easily be distinguished from people who display normal collecting behavior, by the quantity of the collected items. Hoarders accumulate possessions to an extent that will fill up their living space or workplace, so that it is no longer possible to use the space for its intended use.
Hoarding Issue is Extensive
Hoarding disorders have increased dramatically in the past decade, and about 15 million people are considered affected by this mental disability across the country. Most tenants with hoarding issues often remain undetected for a long time, until it is time for property management to conduct an internal inspection of the units.
Hoarders are known not to report maintenance issues and such behavior could lead to extensive damage of the unit. Hoarding also creates many safety and health issues, including infestation, structural issues, and fire hazards. There was an episode in the wonderful show of House that illustrated this. In that episode, you could barely walk into the apartment and the inside was filled up with junk and it was disgusting. It was a biological nightmare.
What can Property Management Do?
Since hoarding is considered a mental disability, property management will have to accommodate hoarders if they want to comply with the Fair Housing Act. Even though most hoarders are not particular about the quality or state of the unit, property management has to make sure the accommodation provided is reasonably good, since they are protected under FHA, and they are considered disabled.
In case there is a hoarder in the community, it is not wise to evict the person immediately. Property management will first have to think of solutions that might reduce the tenant's tendency to hoard, largely. Property manager will have to treat the matter compassionately and deal with the issue with fair amount of sensitivity. Make sure not to use words such as mess, trash, or junk while describing the possessions of the tenant.
This way, you can gain trust of the tenant and he will be more open to listen to what you are suggesting. Property management can take professional help and develop an individualized plan for correcting the situation, and make the tenant agree to support services and for cleaning the unit. Additionally, maintenance personnel and property staff should be made to understand that this situation comes under the protection of FHA and must be dealt with sensitivity.
Cleaning of the unit will be slow and may extend over several months, as getting over hoarding disorder is a process and takes time. However, property management can take steps to first clear items that are safety and fire hazards. Remedy plan should include regular inspections for verifying progress.
Document Steps Taken
It is vital for property management to document everything while implementing a remedial plan. The plan can be made into an agreement, and make the hoarder tenant sign such an agreement voluntarily. If the hoarder refuses to sign such an agreement, consult an attorney and start sending follow up letters or notices.