How to (Legally) Get a Hoarder Out of a Rental
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Hoarders — as the popular TV show has labeled them — have a psychological disorder that causes them to insist on keeping things they have no need for, to excess. While the disorder itself is often more of a cause for empathy than anything else, being a hoarder’s landlord can be a very taxing experience. While the Fair Housing Act keeps you from discriminating against a hoarder — yes, even if you’re aware of the problem up front — there are definitely several solid legal reasons you can get rid of someone that is compulsively collecting fairly quickly.
Breach of Lease
Even if a hoarder pays on time every month, the conditions under which they live very often will breach the lease agreement for any of several reasons:
- Damage to the Property: Probably the rarest of these reasons, but nevertheless something to keep an eye out for. Clutter falling onto and breaking windows; piles bowing or cracking steps, decks, or counters; enormous clothing collections ruining closet bars, shelves, or built-in dressers — there are many ways that ‘too much stuff’ can necessitate excessive repair costs.
- Blocking Emergency Exits: Conversely, this is probably the easiest way to evict a hoarder. Check every bedroom — even if it’s not being used — and if there’s too much stuff for a reasonable person to climb out the window in case of a fire, you have a legitimate reason to claim breach-of-lease.
- Attracting Pests: Most modern lease agreements have some form of pest clause; if you can demonstrate that the hoarder’s mess is creating a situation that is attracting bugs, rodents, or other pests, you have a solid case for eviction.
- Creating a Fire Hazard: Some hoarders insist on keeping things like newspapers and magazines — innocent enough at first, but when you get enough paper in one place and the pulp dust becomes palpable in the air, you have a definite fire hazard, which under most lease agreements is all the reason you need.
- Unsanitary Conditions: If the hoarder’s stuff has spread to the point that they no longer have a functional space in which to cook, a functional shower or bathtub, or (God forbid) a functional toilet or sink, they are definitely in breach of the lease.
Follow the Process
For all of that, however, there’s still — like always — a process that must be followed in order to finally move the tenant out. If you don’t follow this process, you might get stuck with a hoarder by court order, and believe me, you don’t want that. So heed these steps carefully:
- Document the Conditions by taking pictures, video, and handwritten notes. Be certain that you get the exact circumstances that show the breach-of-lease, but don’t stop there — get a solid overview as well.
- Give the Tenant Notice that they have a reasonable timeframe (usually set by state law, but 30 days is acceptable almost everywhere) to rectify their situation. If you want to be on the cautious side, give them 90 days, but set sub-goals for each 30-day mark.)
- Contact Your Attorney and tell them about what’s going on. Give them copies of your evidence, and inform them of the timeline set by your notice. Make sure they’re going to be available to move on this as soon after the 30 days are up as possible.
- Assuming Noncompliance, consult with your attorney again when the hoarder has shown that they’re unwilling or unable to clean up, and commence the eviction proceeding.
The purpose of the 90-day option is to show a judge that you weren’t being unreasonable — many hoarders’ messes are significant enough that they would be reasonable unable to clean up while holding down a full-time job within a single month. Giving them a longer timeframe with reasonable ‘stepping stone’ goals allows you to appear more reasonable, and the vast majority of hoarders won’t get anywhere near even the first ‘stepping stone,’ making them appear more unreasonable in front of a judge.
Hoarders aren’t bad people — but they’re horrible tenants, and you shouldn’t feel terribly badly about getting them out. You, the owner, and the building will be happier that you did.