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Q. I have a tenant that has been occupying one of my apartments for about five years now. She always pays the rent on time and I have not had any complaints about her until recently.
Last month, a neighbor informed me that she appears to be a “hoarder.” When I went to visit her at the apartment I was shocked to see that I could barely step inside. There were boxes stacked to the ceilings, what appeared to be trash strewn all over the interior, blocked doorways, and a generally disgusting atmosphere. What can I do?
A. First, you need to understand that hoarding is widely considered a mental illness related to obsessive compulsive disorder. It is very likely that your tenant will not be able to resolve this situation without a good deal of assistance that might include the need for everything from professional counseling to cleaning and moving services.
Because of the professionally recognized psychological nature of this disorder, you would be wise to avoid any action or statement that can be viewed as discriminatory. Instead, focus on the conditions that result from her actions.
If she is breaking any building or fire codes, she will have breached her lease agreement which is grounds for eviction. For example, there may be blocked emergency exits or other limited egress or interference with ventilation or sprinkler systems that could result in a fire or other dangerous condition. She could also be storing personal property that is in-and-of-itself presents dangers (e.g. aerosol cans, perishable goods that attract mold, potentially explosive materials, etc.).
Your first step should be to document such conditions, put the tenant on notice, and give her an opportunity to cure her default and the dangerous conditions. You should consult with a competent real estate attorney to assure that you follow the necessary procedures should this ultimately result in the need to evict her.
If her hoarding is interfering with other tenants’ enjoyment of the property, this also might be grounds for eviction. For example, if her personal property is being stored in common areas such as stairways and hallways, or if her clutter is causing noxious odors or attracting pests, you have an obligation to your other tenants to find a resolution.
If her hoarding is causing physical damage to the apartment or the building, you might have a claim for waste that could result in eviction.
After consulting with an attorney, your next step should be to contact the local fire department and the Department of Buildings and have them out to document the condition and any violations.
Lastly, you might consider offering to put her in touch with other professionals who may be able to assist her. You can find more information on hoarding on the website of the International OCD Foundation.
Mike Akerly is a New York City real estate attorney, landlord, and real estate broker. He is also the publisher of the Greenwich Village blog VillageConfidential.