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Hoarding… not just creative yard art

Hoarding... not just creative yard art

Whether it’s compulsive “collecting” from flea markets or yard sales, having an obsession with belongings that others would consider garbage (refusing to discard anything), or accumulating dogs and cats, HOARDING is a very complex issue which has recently gained insight, thanks in part to television programs such as ‘Hoarding: Buried Alive’ on the TLC channel. This disorder can afflict anyone regardless of age, gender, race or economical status.

Hoarding disorder is a distinct mental disability defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) as follows: (1) The disorder is characterized by the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions. (2) The behavior usually has harmful effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for the person suffering from the disorder and family members. (3) For individuals who hoard, the quantity of their collected items sets them apart from people with normal collecting behaviors. They accumulate a large number of possessions that often fill up or clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible.*

How can you tell that someone is hoarding, as opposed to “being a collector”? Here are just some of the signs that the health and safety of a household is in jeopardy or compromised by the behaviors of hoarding:

  • If the garbage accumulated in or around the property attracts rodents, vermin, and other unhealthy organisms, causing infestation and contamination.
  • If piles of belongings cut off, block or inhibit safe passage inside or around the property, threatening to tip over or collapse at any time, causing injuries or accidents.
  • If the conditions inhibit the ability or use of clean water, functional plumbing, heating, proper ventilation or storing and preparing food for meals, resulting in environmental hazards and serious risks to the health or unhabitability.

How does this affect you? What if this is your family member or a friend? Your neighbor? What if you suspect this behavior from a neighboring tenant in a multi-unit complex? Do you have a responsibility to help that person? What responsibilities does the property management company have?

Because it is a disability, people with hoarding disorder must be accommodated in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. While they usually do not request a reasonable accommodation, it is still our responsibility to accommodate, since the disability is likely apparent and thus warrants protection under the Fair Housing Act regardless of the resident’s request for an accommodation.

At D & G Equity, as a property management company our #1 responsibility is to the property owner and maintaining the value of their income property. We do this by including guidelines in our rental agreement which prohibits and discourages the accumulation and storing of personal items, perform regular exterior inspections and drive-byes which alert us to any dramatically changing conditions, and when we see or suspect hoarding, we schedule with our tenant to perform an interior inspection of the property. Damage and loss resulting from hoarding can cost the property owner a lot.

We make sure that our property staff, including maintenance professionals, understand that the situation is a fair housing issue and that they must treat the matter with due sensitivity. We require immediate action if the resident is hoarding animals or explosives, blocking emergency exits or sprinklers, or directly damaging the unit. We consider, as a reasonable accommodation, developing an individualized remedy plan that requires the resident to obtain support services and clean the unit.
As human beings, we also have a responsibility to our neighbors and the community as a whole. Junk piles and excessive accumulation can devalue surrounding properties, make the neighborhood look less inviting, and encourage others’ hoarding tenancies. We take pride in our commitment to maintain and improve conditions with all of the properties we manage, and concern ourselves with surrounding properties.
Community-mindedness is helpful. Seeing and reporting obtrusive circumstances, rather than turning a blind eye, can benefit your tenancy just as much as that of someone you suspect is hoarding. START BY contacting your property manager or landlord to report a fellow tenant who’s disorder may be creating an unhealthy or unsafe environment with their rental can instigate a solution and prevent further harm or damage.
PATIENCE and COMPASSION is key if you have a loved one, friend or someone in your neighborhood who might be suffering from this disorder. There are many websites, public and private resources now available which can address the issues and help in a clean up. Here is a list for resources available to residents in Sonoma County:
Fair Housing of Sonoma County
Sonoma County Section on Aging
The OCD Foundation
OCD Therapists in Sonoma County
JunkHoardingCleanUpUSA.COM #866.936.1112*Definition of Hoarding obtained from Institute of Real Estate Management
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