United States: Addressing The Challenge Of A Hoarding Tenant: An Advisory For Residential Landlords

Our society has always been fascinated with hoarders. In the early to mid 1900s, people were obsessed with the fabled Collyer brothers who, over the course of several decades, filled to capacity their Fifth Avenue brownstone in Harlem, where they were eventually found dead in 1947, buried beneath all the clutter. More recently, television shows like the A&E series "Hoarders," which follows extreme hoarders as they try to clean up their homes, have captured millions of viewers. Our intrigue with compulsive hoarding has helped the show remain popular after six seasons.

While compulsive hoarding fascinates the general public, landlords dealing with tenants who compulsively hoard are anything but fascinated. Hoarding tenants raise a host of complicated legal issues for landlords. Compulsive hoarding, by definition, is practically incompatible with the legal obligations associated with occupancy of leased residential property. Compulsive hoarding has three primary characteristics: (1) acquiring and failing to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value; (2) cluttered living spaces that prevent activities in the spaces they were designed for; and (3) the hoarding causes significant distress or impairment. Psychologists estimate that 2-5% of adults suffer from compulsive hoarding.1 Someone who hoards is considered a person with a disability because they meet the definition of disability under both state and federal fair housing laws. Because hoarding qualifies as a disability under federal and state anti-discrimination laws, landlords have an affirmative duty to first make a reasonable accommodation before resorting to other legal remedies such as eviction.

At a minimum, compulsive hoarding will likely result in conditions that violate the lease agreement. Additionally, compulsive hoarding may violate state sanitary, electrical, or building codes, local regulations, or animal care standards. Hoarding may also increase fire risks, present tripping or falling hazards, impair access by emergency workers, and contribute to the spread of contagious diseases through poor sanitation and related vermin infestations. In addition to breaching the lease agreement, these conditions may be in violation of various state laws, including obstruction of exits and passageways (105 C.M.R. 410.450-410.452), failure to maintain the dwelling in a clean and sanitary condition and free of garbage, rubbish, other filth or causes of sickness (105 C.M.R. 410.602), failure to properly dispose of garbage or rubbish (105 C.M.R. 410.601), lack of suitable space to store, prepare and serve foods in a sanitary manner (105 C.M.R. 410.100(a)), failure to eliminate insect infestations (105 C.M.R. 410.550), and lack of a shower or bathtub in good operating condition (105 C.M.R. 410.150(A)). Hoarding may also violate provisions of the State Building Code, 780 C.M.R., the State Fire Prevention Regulations, 527 C.M.R., the Uniform State Plumbing Code, 248 C.M.R. 10.04, or the State Electrical Code, 527 C.M.R. 12. If the hoarding tenant maintains animals in the dwelling, there may be a violation of M.G.L. c. 272, §77, which forbids unnecessarily failing to provide an animal with proper food, drink and a sanitary environment.

Even though these violations alone would otherwise seem to provide a strong basis for eviction, a landlord must first offer a reasonable accommodation to a hoarding tenant. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has found that reasonable accommodation is a waiver or change in policies, practices, procedures and services to provide equal access and opportunity in housing for persons with disability or for those associated with persons with disabilities that would not impose an undue hardship or burden on the entity making the accommodation. See Peabody Properties v. Sherman, 418 Mass. 603 (1994). A landlord who evicts a hoarding tenant without first attempting to accommodate him or her, or who rejects a request without attempting viable alternative accommodations, engages in unlawful discrimination. See Roe v. Sugar Mills Assocs, 820 F. Supp. 636, 640 (D.N.H. 1993). Notably, a landlord has no obligation to make an accommodation that a tenant actively resists. See Blatch v. Hernandez, 360 F. Supp. 2d 595, 634 (S.D.N.Y. 2005); see also 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(e)(1) ("[N]othing in this part shall be construed to require an individual with a disability to accept an accommodation or benefit provided under the [Americans with Disabilities Act] . . . which such individual chooses not to accept."). If a compulsive hoarder refuses to declutter his or her home as part of a reasonable accommodation, the landlord has a strong case for evicting the tenant.

What is a landlord to do when faced with a hoarding tenant? Perhaps the most practical suggestion would be to make every effort to discover and to investigate potential hoarding as quickly as possible. This effort may require giving more prompt attention to complaints of other tenants concerning a particular unit, including odor, vermin, or cluttered access areas. A landlord should be wary of violating a tenant's privacy in investigating such complaints. Therefore, it is good practice to include a provision in the lease agreement allowing the landlord access to a unit with reasonable notice to the tenant. Faced with a recalcitrant tenant who refuses entry, however, the landlord may need to seek assistance from the local board of health or fire department in order to access the unit.

Once the landlord has determined that there is a hoarding tenant, the landlord should offer the tenant reasonable accommodation, in writing, to address the situation, including a plausible plan to declutter the unit. At a minimum, a plausible plan should allow the hoarder sufficient time to clean the unit. A reasonable approach to this daunting task would be to break it into manageable pieces, allowing the tenant to become compliant over time. For example, the landlord could work with the tenant to prepare a written plan in which blocked access ways are cleared first by a date certain, to be followed by removing clutter from the kitchen or the bathroom by a later date, and so on. If the plan includes the code violations at issue, the tenant might better appreciate the seriousness of the problem. Such an approach would also provide further evidence that the landlord took every possible action before resorting to eviction. The landlord should also consider taking the extra step of encouraging the hoarder to get help cleaning the unit since hoarders will not clean on their own. Finally, the landlord should keep detailed records of actions taken to reasonably accommodate the hoarder, as well as of time and expenses. A landlord who can demonstrate that reasonable accommodation was made by giving the hoarding tenant time and a structured plan for cleaning the unit should be able confidently to proceed with eviction if the tenant refuses to comply.

Footnotes

1 There are several psychological journals with information concerning compulsive hoarding including Rando O. Frost & Tamara L. Hartl, A Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Compulsive Hoarding, 34 Behavioral Research Therapy 341 (1996); Pertusa, A., Frost, R.O., Fullana, M. A., Samuels, J., Steketee, G., Tolin, D., Saxena, S., Leckman, J.F., Mataix-Cols, D. (2010); Refining the boundaries of compulsive hoarding: A review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 371-386; Frost et al., Hoarding: A Community Health Problem, 8 Health and Social Care in the Community, 229, 231 (2000).

www.nutter.com

This update is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. Under the rules of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this material may be considered as advertising.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Farella Braun & Martel
Strasburger & Price, L.L.P.
Strasburger & Price, L.L.P.
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Farella Braun & Martel
Strasburger & Price, L.L.P.
Strasburger & Price, L.L.P.
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions