News stories and reality TV shows about compulsive hoarding behavior, or Collyer’s Syndome, are appearing more and more frequently. While the contents of these collections may appear humorous or even entertaining, there is nothing funny about the potential life and safety issues impacting the hoarder and his/her neighbors. Many times, the items hoarded can essentially be considered garbage - which attracts pests and creates a stench that permeates nearby homes. The collection also creates a greater likelihood of fire and blocks pathways inside the home that are used by emergency responders providing assistance.
While the governing documents of many Associations may prohibit unsanitary conditions, actual enforcement is another matter. When a situation has become so serious that the Board of Directors takes notice, the lengthy notification process for the Association to take action is likely a roadblock. Depending on how entrenched the hoarder is, the Association may have to obtain a court order permitting entry into the home.
A far faster solution is to notify the local governing agencies, such as Code Enforcement, Adult Protective Services, or the Fire Marshall. Generally, they will be able to respond more quickly to head off a potential disaster. Unfortunately, some governing agencies can also be slow responders, or may shy away from confrontation due to media coverage.
If this occurs, the next best step is to locate family relatives who may have some sway with the hoarder, and can see that he/she is provided with mental and medical assistance. This too may be a slow process, depending on whether a competency hearing must be held before the family can act.
No matter the direction the Board chooses, the Association’s attorney should be involved in the process every step of the way, advising how to proceed with minimum legal exposure. Be aware that the Fair Housing Act may protect the hoarder due to his mental condition, and the court might require extended attempts to have the hoarder reduce his collection before finally concluding that the situation is no longer tolerable.
Throughout the ordeal, the Association should maintain detailed records of hoarding conditions and what actions were taken to resolve the problem. If the unthinkable happens, and multiple homes are damaged, these records of action will be critical in protecting against any claims brought against the Association.
Hoarding behavior is a serious situation that cannot be ignored. If you receive reports that such activity is occurring, act promptly to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone.