Landlords and Hoarders: When a fire broke out recently in an apartment building in San Diego, firefighters soon found their access was hampered–by piles and piles of clothing and other belongings.
The apartment they were trying to save was heaped with junk, making it difficult to tell whether someone was trapped inside. The fire caused an estimated $50,000 in property damage, and claimed $25,000 worth of personal items. Worse, two firefighters were injured, the victims of hoarding.
Hoarding–an obsession to collect belongings, is considered a mental illness akin to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And, it appears to be on the rise, although public health officials don’t fully understand why. It could be the result of more publicity on the subject. Or, it could be that more hoarders can only find outpatient therapy, forcing them to grapple with the disorder in their own homes. There is even the theory that hoarding may be a learned behavior because it appears often in families. It may even be genetic.
Whatever the reason, hoarding is getting more attention as the health and safety consequences become more clear. Arizona public health officials were forced to established a Hoarding Task Force to study the problem because of the rise in reported cases there, while Tulsa health officials just announced they are putting more resources toward understanding and controlling the problem.
One thing is for certain: hoarding in multifamily buildings is dangerous. First, there is the fire hazard created from blocked exits. Sometimes the materials hoarded are flammable, or add quick fuel to a home fire. Hoarding also makes a comfortable environment for a variety of pests, and makes extermination of bedbugs, mice and other infestations nearly impossible. And cleaning and restoring an apartment that has been home to a hoarder can be expensive and time-consuming.
The easiest way for landlords and property managers to cope with the landlords and hoarders issue is to be prepared before it happens. Make it a habit to inspect the property during the lease to uncover problems like hoarding. And make sure the lease provides grounds for evicting a tenant who is causing a health or fire safety concern, or list in house rules specifically where items can and cannot be stored so the hoarder and those around them can remain safe.
It is critical to make sure the tenant is complying with local fire safety and building codes. Landlords and hoarders need to work together to limit safety issues.
Fire departments and public health officials may be an important resource in dealing with landlords and hoarders. Landlords need to address the issue promptly to avoid placing other tenants at risk.
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