Dear Ms. Demeanor: What can we do about a hoarder who is creating a roach problem in our building?
There is a hoarder in the building and she’s causing a roach problem. The board is tying themselves in knots trying to deal with her. They’ve done everything except confront her directly. Do you think that would help?
Signed, Horrified Non-Hoarder
Of course confronting her directly would help. It’s not ‘everything’ if they haven’t tried speaking with her.
But let’s back up a minute. I understand that there are usually deep psychological issues surrounding hoarding. Your board may be trying to be sensitive or respectful, but they should keep in mind this isn’t ‘Hoarders,’ the television show. This isn’t suburbia, with yards separating where we live, and this is not going to be neatly addressed in an hour-long episode.
You’re in a co-op building, where hoarding is a serious and dangerous problem for the hoarder and everyone around them. This woman must be told that exterminators are coming, and they must be admitted into each apartment. If she does not allow this, check your proprietary lease. Mine says that every shareholder must leave a key with the building in case of an emergency. A roach infestation should certainly qualify as an emergency.
But roaches are not the only problem for your co-op building, there are other, even more serious concerns. Heard of the Collyer Brothers? In the 1940s, two brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer, lived in a Harlem brownstone stuffed with an unimaginable amount of junk—like a car chassis and 14 pianos, according to The New York Times. The police found them after they died—one was buried under an avalanche of trash, the other starved to death.
Safety in a co-op building is everyone’s responsibility. Your fire department should be made aware of any suspected hoarders. If there’s a fire in the hoarder’s apartment, or even in the building and they need to get out quickly, it could be deadly.
On a lighter note, don’t sign up for those subscription services that send you boxes of stuff like soap or toilet paper automatically every month. They’ll make a hoarder out of all of us.
Dianne Ackerman is the new voice of reason behind Ms. Demeanor. She has lived in her Upper East Side co-op for the past 20 years and is the vice president of her co-op board. She is filled with opinions that she gladly shares with all who ask—and some who do not. Have something that needs sorting out? Drop her an email.
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