If you’re not naturally tidy, mess and clutter are something you’re familiar with. When the mess in our house gets to a certain point, we buckle. Garbage bags come out, broom, dustpan, and mop are put back in use, and we undertake a heavy purge and clean. However, 2-5% of the population may acknowledge the mess (though not always), and may want to clean it up, but are just incapable. We call this hoarding, a mental disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It can be a terrible affliction to suffer but as landlords and property managers, how do we handle a hoarder?
For starters, with caution. This is a mental disorder so don’t be too quick to pull the eviction card. A “hoarding disorder is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value, to the point that it causes harmful effects for the person, or to those around the person (e.g. family members or landlords).” Aside from having some compassion, it’s important to approach these situations with tact, diplomacy and open communication. Depending on where you’re located, these types of tenants may even be protected by residential tenancy acts. It’s not as simple as seeing a hazardous amount of clutter and saying goodbye. Here are a few things to try before filling out an eviction notice.
Know What’s Messy Vs. What’s Hoarding
It’s important to figure out whether you’re looking at a mess or you’re looking at a hoarder’s collection. Is clutter blocking entryways and exits? Is the mess attracting pests or creating mold that may also affect neighbours? Is your property being damaged? Are the vents and sprinkler systems free and clear of debris? These are important questions to ask when assessing the circumstances. If their situation creates safety hazards for other residents, it may be time to take action.
When we say approach, we don’t mean with an official warning or an eviction notice. Give your tenant a chance to explain what’s going on while reminding them of their lease obligations. You’re not involved in your tenant’s daily life so there could be a logical reason for the extra clutter. Perhaps they’re housing stuff for friends and/or family, or they’re in the process of moving. The best first step you can take is to talk to your tenant face-to-face. The situation could be short-lived and a non-issue.
If there’s no reason for the extra clutter, an open line of communication is an important first step to remedying the situation. There’s a possibility that they may not even realise the implications of their compulsive hoarding. By bringing it to their attention, you give them the opportunity to clear it up themselves.
Now that you’ve spoken to your tenant, if they’re having trouble getting started, provide some help. Offer them extra storage space in the basement if it’s available. Offer to hire a professional cleaning service. Provide some professional counseling resources to help with their disorder. If that feels out of your depth, check in your area for mental health clinics that may provide you with the resources you need. For instance, the City of Vancouver is currently piloting a Hoarding Action Response Team in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health providing healthy and safe outcomes for people affected by hoarding.
It’s important to document everything right from the start. It’s good practice to document everything anyway but in cases like this, it’s worth reiterating. Pictures, videos, dates of visits, any rejections to see the property, any communication, write it all down. If worse comes to worst and you need to start eviction proceedings, you’ll need every piece of documentation.
As property managers, we’re no strangers to evictions and you should consult a knowledgeable property manager or real estate lawyer before proceeding. Evictions are a last resort no one wants to use but at Pemberton Holmes Property Management Group, we’re experts in managing properties and providing quick resolutions. There’s no way to completely avoid hoarder tenants but we can help reduce the risk. When your houses go up for rent, we’ll be there to get the best tenant for you.