Hoarding isn't just a nuisance, which can bring odors and vermin into a building, it can also be deadly. Years ago, a fire erupted in a Williamsburg apartment overflowing with stuff, killing firefighter Lieutenant Gordon Matthew Ambelas.
In fact, the FDNY refers to these "death-trap homes" as Collyers' mansions, named for two wealthy brothers who died in their packed Harlem brownstone in the 1940s, according to the New York Times. It's difficult to fight a blaze in one of these places, as the FDNY's training materials note, because of blocked entryways and debris piled so high that a “firefighter crawling atop can accidentally crawl out a window," the Times says.
[***This story was originally published in July 2014 and updated in January 2017.]
No surprise then that the FDNY attempts to keep track of these homes, so if they get called to one, they can be prepared.
But what can you do if you suspect you're living next to a hoarder? First, look for the telltale signs: your neighbor goes through someone else's trash or junk mail and doesn't put out as much trash as other people; curtains are pushed up against the windows; and no one is ever allowed in the apartment.
What to do if your neighbor's hoarding:
Complain to 311. Your call will either be directed to Adult Protective Services or the FDNY, depending on whether you're concerned about your neighbor's psychological issues or a fire hazard, respectively.
If the person shows signs of mental and physical impairment and an inability to help themselves, they may be eligible for assistance from the APS, a department representative tells us. The agency will send someone to clean the apartment for free, but first you'll have to fill out a questionnaire to figure out whether the person qualifies for help. The FDNY can also visit the home and issue a court summons to clean up the place if the space is considered hazardous.
Contact your property manager—or landlord if you don't have one. They can conduct an inspection of the person's home, and give the hoarder a formal notice to clear the place. If you're in a co-op or condo, contact the board as well.
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