Hoarders IN HOAs. Where Do You Start?

I have had a number of HOAs and also individuals recently that complain of concerns about residents that may be hoarders. They want to know what to  do.

There are not any easy answers and I hope to do a newsletter on the subject later this summer (so sign up at www.californiacondoguru.com!!) . But I will say a few things now because people tend to fly off the handle when there is a report of a potential hoarding situation.

First of all, if you know anyone who has been in the hoarder’s unit ask for some productive information. Boards often tell me that they believe a unit is a fire or rodent hazard.. How do you know this? Document all facts and evidence. This may become critically important in any actions that you later feel you have to take.

Second, the local Fire Department may have some responsibility here and may be willing to do an inspection if they can be presented with clear evidence that there is a reason to suspect a fire hazard exists. So it is important especially to identify if there are any electrical outlets or any situations that would be considered hazardous by the F.D. They may provide information about what concerns them on a website, i.e., what they would look for.

You may have some inside work (like plumbing, upgrading electrical, etc.) coming up that warrants an inspection and you might use that as a basis to get inside the unit. Most HOA docs do allow for entry for inspections but read the language carefully before asserting the right – so you get it right in your demand for entry.

Nuisance is another issue, if there actually is one. Are there any signs whatsoever outside of the unit that there is a problem inside?  The local Health and Human Services Department may be willing to come out if there are signs of rodents, garbage, etc. that can be seen or smelled outside the unit. But the problem almost has to be falling out the doors or windows for the Health Department to come in. It would not hurt to call them if in fact you have some evidence that there is a health hazard in the Unit.

In 1998 an association in Orange County tried to litigate a case against an owner for hoarding. It did not go well. The owner turned around and sued the association for various causes involving their mishandling of the situation (breach of fiduciary duty). The HOA had to pay some hefty lawyer fees not only on their own side but the other side also. This case now stands for the proposition that there is a difference between extremely poor housekeeping (which is not legally actionable) and an outright safety issue.

So don’t jump to conclusions, make assumptions based on rumor (you all know what that does, right?) or fly off the handle. Addressing these situations requires pragmatic approaches, unless the safety, health or hazardous evidence is falling out or emanating outside the doors and windows. I  mean in one case on TV the odor did actually lead to discover of an elderly woman dead  under the debris. So don’t ignore complaints either.

And keep in mind,

You could try another approach although hoarding is a form of mental illness (sometimes referred to as “Collyer Syndrome”) and so there may not be much hope here. But you might try to arrange a meeting with the owner and the other owners in the building to get together and “brainstorm” solutions together. I have no idea if this will bear any fruit but you could try it. The neighbors have legitimate concerns if they are tuned in and may want to take a friendly approach.

You may have formed opinions about the feasibility of this yourselves based on whatever is before you. But you can always ask. The more favorable the paper trail is to your good faith efforts the better off you are going to be down the road if you have to ask the authorities or the courts for help.









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