How to Handle a Hoarder Tenant
The American Psychiatry Association defines ‘hoarding’ as excessively saving items that others view as worthless at a level of saving that impacts the activities of daily living. Simply put, they are saving so much that it becomes harder to impossible to do simple, daily activities.
This behavior actually occurs in 2-6% of the population, according to the APA, which is something that really blew my mind and made me realize how much more common this can be!
Lastly, because it is defined that way by the APA, this is a protected class. That means you will need to be much more careful when you are the landlord in these types of situations.
How Landlords Should Handle Hoarders
Now that we have defined what a hoarder tenant technically is, something you need to remember is that you need to be careful when determining the difference between a hoarder and someone who simply has a lot of stuff. There’s different levels to everything, right? So, you need to be cognizant of the range from dirty tenants all the way up to hoarders that have a medical illness as defined by the A.P.A.
Since this is something that is so critical, understanding what to look for when reviewing your tenant’s behavior can be helpful to discuss and consider.
The first sign is if the exits are blocked. Any entrance or exits being blocked are a huge risk to your tenants and they’re a fire risk. Another sign in a similar line of thinking is if there is anything that is blocking ventilation or fire alarms. As you can tell, we are looking for behavior that might be considered dangerous.
The third thing to look for is if there are any pests throughout the house. Now, simply having pests is not enough to take someone to court to evict them. However, if there is a documented history or a part of a larger problem like having exits blocked, you can start to show a pattern of behavior.
Further, if you are going to be using the attracting pest definition, you’re going to want to make sure it’s not just one or two cockroaches but rather, it will have to be a pretty aggressive infestation for a judge to rule on your behalf.
Those are going to be three really solid starting points in considering a tenant as a hoarder as opposed to just dirty tenants.
Path Forward When Dealing with Hoarders
Back to the story, we had a brand new landlord who was dealing with this pretty quickly into her career owning and renting out properties, and it was actually a pretty aggressive situation that I couldn’t believe. I don’t want to get into specifics on her situation, but it was the actual steps that she is taking that I thought would be worth discussing.
First, based on what her lease says, she needs to be doing some type of inspection. She needs to be doing this pretty regularly, since her situation is pretty clearly a hoarding situation. So, based on the lease terms as to how often she can inspect the property, she is going to be setting appointments to check and document things.
She is taking pictures, noting damage, recording video walkthroughs and anything else that she notes as troublesome.
Beyond that, I thought it would be best to offer help via something like a one time cleaning or help get a dumpster or something like that to show documented proof that you are trying to provide a reasonable level of assistance.
You want to make sure that, not only do you look like the good guy if/when you need to show up in court, but also to ensure that you are doing your duty as a landlord. I strongly believe that doing a little more to help a struggling tenant is way more important than getting angry or vindictive. Sometimes it’s that little bit of effort that can help someone find a better way.
Like I say in our values video, I want to provide the best help, even if it is cumbersome for us. This is an opportunity to do the right thing and it doesn’t hurt the landlord to offer that help their tenant. I know it will be annoying to help clean someone else’s mess, but those couple hours on your weekend will be an investment in the long term value of your property.
Cash for Keys
Our landlord friend was also trying to move on from this tenant as well, based on some situational details, so we also went through the idea of cash for keys.
Basically, cash for keys is where you offer a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars for the tenants to simply move out. You might offer to pay for the movers as well, really anything to incentivize the tenants to move out as soon as possible.
Evicting a Hoarding Tenant
If the tenant doesn’t want to work with her, the last thing we discussed was the possibility of an eviction. If that is something that you think is worth proceeding with, then you are going to need to inspect the property for direct damage to the house, any dangerous conditions like blocked entrances or fire alarms, or any type of interference with alarm systems.
Other things to pay attention to are any fire hazards, or flammable or explosive material. Make sure you are documenting everything because these are going to be the supporting reasons that will enable you to get them out of your property via eviction.
We want to protect the property, so anything that could damage the property, anything that goes against the lease terms, or any pest infestations would be considered support for your case. You need to remember that you might need to present facts in front of a judge, and they will be looking for unsanitary conditions to the point where the tenants can no longer use the kitchen or bathroom. Those are deemed important and necessary things for the quality of life, so if the mess has rendered them unusable, that is something you want to document.
In conclusion, when dealing with dirty tenants compared to hoarder tenants, it’s going to be critical to differentiate them and be patient with those dealing with an actual medical condition. No matter what the situation is though, you need to be proactive in protecting your property, which might mean documenting the care of the home and setting up plans to clean up the property.
That way, if you do need to pursue an eviction, you will be able to show that you went out of your way to work with the tenant to help them through their situation. I would also definitely recommend contacting an attorney to review your rights. Discussing your specific state’s rules as well as options like cash for keys can provide some solutions for your situation.
Therefore, if you are in a similar situation, reach out to me and let’s talk through your options.