Hoarding Tenants & Unit Owners Must Be Provided Reasonable Accommodations

August 10th, 2015 by JBWK

Submitted by Herbert V. Kelly, Jr.

Compulsive hoarders present very serious problems for landlords, property managers, and homeowners associations. Hoarding often results in countless adverse and potentially life threatening circumstances for both the hoarder and their neighbors. One might assume, justifiably, that evicting or otherwise ridding themselves of a hoarding tenant or unit owner would be a relatively simple endeavor.

After all, in those extreme instances which seem to require such action, the foul conditions of a hoarder’s living quarters often constitute not only a breach of the lease or homeowner agreement but also violate numerous federal, state, and local laws, building codes, and regulations meant to address health and cleanliness concerns. Despite the existence of thoroughly legitimate health and safety concerns, it is incumbent on landlords, property managers, and homeowners associations to approach a hoarding tenant or unit owner with extreme caution.

Compulsive hoarding qualifies as a disability under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As a result, landlords, property managers, and homeowners associations have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations prior to pursuing traditional legal remedies. Courts have not been particularly instructive on reasonable accommodations for compulsive hoarders however, opinions have suggested that providing an owner or tenant with the opportunity to clean up shop within a reasonable amount of time will meet the burden. Another acceptable accommodation might include providing additional storage for a hoarder to store his items. In most cases, the hoarder will be unable to comply with an accommodation because doing so would require actions directly in conflict with their disability.

Other reasonable accommodations may exist and it is wise to consider all requests made by a hoarding tenant or unit owner prior to seeking legal remedies. It is also important to remember that not all requests are reasonable. A requested accommodation is unreasonable if it imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on the landlord, property manager, or homeowners association. While it is often in everyone’s best economic interest to seek a mutual resolution, there is no duty to comply with a request for an unreasonable accommodation.

Determining whether a reasonable accommodation has been offered, whether the accommodation has been complied with, or whether an accommodation requested is unreasonable are all difficult tasks requiring analysis of the law and application of that law to the precise circumstances. Failure to handle these matters appropriately may result in severe consequences under both state and federal laws. Some tactics to consider in preparing to evict or to seek other legal remedies may include obtaining official reports from local and state government departments on the health and safety concerns, building code violations, and fire hazards posed by the hoarding tenant or owner.

Even with evidence of this sort, compliance with state and federal requirements can be difficult to achieve and even more difficult to prove in court. Not only does failure to prove compliance with legal requirements prevent a court from removing the hoarder from the property, such failure also subjects the moving party to monetary and civil penalties. One can avoid these risks and uncertainties by seeking legal advice as soon as a hoarding tenant or unit owner has been discovered.

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