People often joke about their hoarding tendencies -- keeping old clothing that hasn't fit in years or retaining already read books for boring, rainy days. But while many people use the term casually, hoarding is actually a serious mental disorder that has serious health and social implications. And renting to a tenant who's a hoarder could seriously affect you as a landlord.
If you discover that you have a tenant who's a hoarder, it's important to take action while also following the law. And while a hoarding eviction may eventually be your best bet in this scenario, there are other steps you can take first. Here, let's walk through what to do if you're convinced you have a hoarding tenant on your hands.
Step 1: Note the distinction between hoarding and messiness
There's a difference between clutter and hoarding. With the former, there may be messy buildup and piles in odd places, but the home in question is still livable, sanitary, and safe. In hoarding situations, your tenant's rental unit may be so filled to capacity that there's no room to walk and it's difficult to breathe. It's these dangerous, unsanitary conditions that should prompt you to take action as a landlord -- whereas if you have sloppy or dirty tenants, there's not much to do other than ignore them.
Step 2: Talk to your hoarding tenant
You can't just kick a hoarder out of your rental unit. In fact, the Fair Housing Act prohibits you as a landlord from treating a hoarding tenant unfairly.
But extreme hoarding could result in a scenario where your tenant is damaging your property and creating a hazard for others. For example, if you have a tenant who's accumulated so many things that they're blocking vents, windows, and doorways, that could lead to mold issues, and as a property owner, you have the right to try to prevent that. Similarly, if you rent to a hoarder who doesn't dispose of perishable food items, it could create a rodent, roach, termite, or other insect infestation in your building that extends to outside units, thereby impacting other tenants.
Once you've recognized that your tenant is not only a hoarder but one who's creating an unsafe environment, your next step is to present your concerns and give your tenant a reasonable amount of time to remedy the problem. The exact amount of time could vary based on your state's laws, but you'll want to document that conversation and time frame in writing.
Step 3: Pursue an eviction if your tenant can't remedy the situation
Hoarding itself isn't grounds for eviction. Rather, you'll need to prove that your tenant is in violation of his or her lease agreement in order to pursue a hoarding eviction. For example, if your tenant's behavior is causing damage to your property or impacting the health and safety of your remaining tenants, that's a good reason to go through the eviction process.
But that process can be a lengthy one. You'll need to serve your tenant with a formal eviction notice, give your tenant a chance to respond to it, file the eviction in court, go through a hearing, and wait to obtain a judgment against your tenant.
If your tenant refuses to work with you, then eviction proceedings may be your only choice, but it's generally best to try to avoid eviction and instead find ways to help your tenant put an end to the specific behaviors that are creating an unsafe environment or lease violation. To be clear, no one expects you, as a landlord, to step in and help your tenant stop being a hoarder. But you may be able to get your tenant to adjust his or her behavior enough to stay in your property.
Ultimately, no matter what steps you end up having to take when dealing with a tenant who's a hoarder, aim to act with as much compassion as you can muster. Hoarding is a mental illness that sufferers struggle to control, and while a hoarding tenant may be a nuisance to you, remember that amidst those stacks and piles is a fellow human being deserving of kindness and respect.