by Amber Nickel – Lawyer, Willis Law
Hoarding – How to Deal with a Messy Situation
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “hoarder”? For many, it is a clip from a popular television show of a person navigating their way through a home in total disarray, with belongings stacked to the ceiling. For some, that memory may not be from television, but from an experience in real life.
Hoarding tendencies can vary between individuals, however the underlying behaviour is consistent. The term “hoarder” is used to describe a person who keeps excessive contents within their living space that interferes with (or completely prevents), day-to-day functions and/or use of rooms. Medical professionals have linked hoarding tendencies with various mental disorders. Severe cases often take a long time to emerge, but when it does happen there are many additional risks and concerns that surface.
It is safe to say that when living in a condominium, your lifestyle affects those around you, and vice versa. This applies to what occurs both inside and outside a unit. Sadly, hoarding can go far beyond an annoyance or nuisance; it can present safety issues for residents and risk to the real property of the condominium corporation, creating (sometimes significant) financial burden on the corporation. There are many steps, costs, and considerations involved with clearing out, cleaning, sanitizing, and eliminating hazards within a hoarded unit.
Before any steps are taken to address suspected hoarding, it is important to remember that a messy resident is very different than a hoarding resident. If the Board of Directors has reason to believe there is a hoarding resident, action must be taken quickly. Consult with the corporation’s legal counsel to review the matter. The following is a non-exhaustive outline for dealing with a hoarded unit:
Prepare an inventory of information available to the corporation
- How the Board became aware of a potential issue;
- Complaints received by other residents;
- Anticipated damage(s) in the unit;
- Copies of communication with the unit occupant, etc.
Keep the information inventory up to date throughout the matter.
Schedule an inspection of the unit
- Review the corporation’s bylaws to confirm any requirements for a unit inspection are met
- It is advisable to have a representative from the Board of Directors attend the inspection, as well as another agent of the corporation
- Upon gaining access to the unit, visually assess if there are any hazards or if it is safe to enter
- If entering the unit, be mindful and respectful of the feelings and privacy of the occupant
- – it is their personal living space and having people in the unit can be distressing
- Take photos and make written notes to document the condition of the unit (do not forget any outdoor exclusive use areas)
- Ensure photos and notes are related to the hoarding
Hoarded units can pose physical health and safety risks, including falling contents, unattended elements such as uncovered electrical wires, mould, exposure to human and/or animal waste, etc. If at any point during an inspection a safety concern arises, stop, and immediately exit the unit. Do not re-enter until proper arrangements can be made with the relevant professionals so the inspection can continue safely.
Once an inspection is completed, the Board will have a better idea of what the corporation is facing and what resources will be required.
It is very common for occupants or assisting friends/family to request the opportunity to remove the contents and clean the unit themselves, with the belief that the problem can be solved by a thorough cleaning by either themselves or a cleaning company.
- A biohazard assessment needs to be performed by a certified biohazard company in any hoarding situation to evaluate potential risks contained in the unit. The presence of mould, insects, vermin, human and/or animal waste, require biohazard services
- Other services that may be required include: content removal, content storage, pest control, mould remediation, asbestos abatement, trades (i.e. plumbing, electrical), etc.
There is no one-size-fits-all checklist for how to handle hoarders in condominiums. The technical elements and number of moving parts involved can be overwhelming. Continue to consult with the corporation’s legal counsel throughout the process for guidance to avoid potential missteps. Dealing with a hoarding situation is challenging for condominium corporations as it requires striking a balance between compassion and the enforcement of the bylaws, legislation, and protection of other occupants and owners.