How to Deal With a Tenant Who Hoards

by Chris on January 21, 2011

Q: We have a tenant who is a hoarder.  Over the years, it is getting worse. What are my rights as a landlord? TVS Landlord
Hoarding–collecting excessive numbers of pets or possessions, is largely viewed as a mental illness related to obsessive compulsive disorder, according to the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. 
The person who hoards not only has a compulsion to acquire possessions, but also has an extremely difficult time disposing of unnecessary possessions.  As a result, the person’s home can become a dangerous place to be.
The phenomenon of hoarding has come to light recently due to a popular A&E reality show of the same name, which each week strives to educate viewers about the disorder and looks for ways to help those suffering from it.
An indication that a tenant is a hoarder is the fact that their possessions are outgrowing the space they have chosen to live in. 
The typical lease agreement is silent on hoarding.  Refusing to rent to someone with the disorder, or who is perceived as having a mental disorder, charging the person a higher rent than other tenants, or evicting the person can all lead to allegations of discrimination.  However, there are a couple of provisions in a standard lease agreement that do provide rights to a landlord in this situation. 
Is the tenant breaking any laws?
The most obvious problem with hoarding is violation of building and public safety codes by blocking emergency access to exits, windows and hallways, or interfering with proper ventilation in the rental unit, which can result in injuries or fire. 
The items themselves could also be dangerous, as in the case of old ammunition, explosives, aerosol cans or perishable goods.
The clutter may encourage pest infestations.
If the tenant is breaking local fire, building or health ordinances, that is usually a violation of the rental agreement, and is often considered grounds to evict the tenant under local tenancy laws.
Is the tenant’s hoarding interfering with other tenants?
Determine whether the possessions are limited to the tenant’s unit and any assigned storage space.  Once belongings start to spill out into hallways, stairwells or other common areas, or the clutter causes odors or attracts pests, the hoarder has become a nuisance, which is usually grounds for an eviction either under the standard terms of the lease agreement, or under local tenancy laws.
Is the hoarding damaging the property?
If hoarding is damaging floors or walls, fixtures or furnishings owned by the landlord, interfering with the building systems, causing structural problems or otherwise devaluing the property, the landlord likely has the right to evict the tenant on those grounds.
Can the situation be resolved short of eviction?
While a landlord faced with a tenant who is hoarding could likely evict the tenant, the eviction process is costly and time-consuming, and may not be necessary in every case.
According to the IOCDF, the hoarder may not realize they have a problem.  Once they come to understand the safety and health issues, and especially in cases where they seek medical treatment, it is possible the situation can improve to the satisfaction of the landlord.
One alternative to eviction is to communicate a very specific set of rules regarding where belongings can or cannot be stored.  Enlist the help of your local building department, fire marshal, or your property insurance agent to draw the line — exactly how far back from doorways, hallways, windows or vents must the items be placed, what specific items are prohibited, and so forth. Base the rules on justifiable health and safety code standards. 
Another possible solution, although only a temporary fix, is to locate more storage for the tenant, understanding that he or she is afraid to let go of possessions. Of course, this only works if the tenant is able to afford the additional storage charges.  Perhaps a family member could safely store some items in order to make the rental property safe.
If a landlord does try to work out the situation short of an eviction, it is wise to follow the same policy in every case to avoid discrimination claims.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah November 1, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I have a tenant live in my 2,bedroom carriage house.She has lived there for 4 years .I totally renovated the unit prior to moving in and was in mint condition.I have not increased the rent in four years.The place has become a disaster ,she does not even discard or bring recycling to a recycling bin close by.I have now spoken to her a second time , safety and posible pest infestation .I could cry with frustration and disappointment.What should I do if she refuses to clean up her act,I am also trying to sell my property ,and this does not present well to a potential buyer.

Sarah November 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm

The place was inspected by a fireman who said there was too many combustables in the unit,I also replaced the furnace ,I was thinking of contacting local health inspector .Any words of wisdom onwhere I should go from here short of eviction ,she does pay her rent on time and does not party ,it is not worth the risk of property devaluation however.

Damaris December 2, 2011 at 6:49 am

You and I seem to be having the same issues. I am currently a resident social services coordinator in Jersey City, NJ and upon doing inspections mandated by the Housing Authority, I discovered housekeeping issues and hoarding issues. After doing some research I sent out a letter stating that I will be performing an inspection in which I ‘ll be looking at whether electrical outlets are blocked or whether someone can easily reach the window. This motivates the residents to remove some of the clutter. Hope this helps. Good luck.

Carol July 5, 2014 at 8:01 am

I have this problem with someone I allowed to stay with a tenant for a short while. In the meantime it has turned into a nightmare. She has took over my entire basement when I told her she could only use part of it and made it a disaster. She turned a short time into over 4 1/2 months and was suppose to be out by July 1st which it is now the 5th. She moved some stuff out but the area that was suppose to be cleaned up has not been done. What short I do? I was going to call the Fire Marshall and Police. Would this help?

alice November 30, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Let her go. Give her two months notice telling her that you want to terminate her tenancy. Both parties have the right to terminate the tenancy, as it’s described on the lease, then you screen the prospective tenant, ask for references as well.

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