While hoarding itself has been officially classified as a disability, those with the disorder may have other mental health-related illnesses apart from hoarding. What happens when a resident clears his living quarters of the hoard but maintains an underlying mental illness which can and will impact his ability to function in his home? This is a problem faced by many property managers in the multifamily industry.
If you discover a resident who is living in squalid conditions, how do you handle the problem? Do you move to evict? Do you transfer the resident and then renovate his former apartment? Do you reach out to other sources for help, such as Adult Protective Services or some to an area Council on Aging organization? Do you call a family member/emergency contact? Do you hire a clean-up service?
The idea that a management company policy will solely dictate your actions, is repugnant to me, though I recognize it is the first place to start for many onsite professionals. However, is eviction the best course of action in order to make the apartment habitable? If your goal and policy is to evict, beware that the disability designation may hamper your efforts, if the resident contacts legal services, or a family member does. In my career, I have faced this problem twice, in two different states, with two different management companies.
My first experience occurred while managing a Section 8 property very early on in my career. The resident suffered from schizophrenia, was a heavy smoker, and prone to violence when off medication. He dressed in a silk smoking jacket while at home, smoked a pipe AND cigarettes, and had a large ornate bar set up in the corner of his living room. He was not technically a Hoarder since there were clear areas in the apartment, but he never cleaned. Ever. He did pay his rent on time every month and cooperated with the annual recertification process. He at one time had been a professor and had stacks of books in his apartment in every room and the hallway. Since he was in a 2-bedroom at the time, and there was quite a demand for that size apartment, I made the decision to transfer him to a 1-bedroom, totally in line with HUD regulations on occupancy. His parents were quite elderly and ill themselves, so they were not able to really look after their son. They were grateful we would not be evicting him on housekeeping lease violations.
We turned the unit and re-rented it in a matter of two weeks. The corporate office never asked why we transferred him. I dodged a bullet, I suppose. Obviously there is more expense involved in turning a unit that has years of dirt and grime built in every nook and cranny. However, when we moved Christopher and neatly packed his books in boxes and moved him into the smaller apartment, he looked around and smiled and thanked us profusely for not evicting him. Mentally ill people instinctively sense that they are sick; many just don’t know what to do about it. We did enlist the aid of Adult Protective Services to help monitor Chris so his housekeeping would not become such an overwhelming burden in the future.
The second time occurred on a property where the Owner knew of the situation and made it clear that he didn’t care since the resident paid his rent on time every month. The man weighed four hundred pounds, minimum, could not really walk and lived in an upstairs apartment. He, for years, had asked the maintenance techs to bring his rent check to the Leasing Office. For me, since we were readying the property for transition to new ownership/management company, this was not something I felt comfortable ignoring. I contacted the man’s son and sought his input. He lived in a different state and had little ability to physically visit often to monitor his father. So, I just asked the resident if I could help him. He was unbelievably relieved! The man had relieving himself in a bucket and an old bedpan because walking to the bathroom was difficult.
I made arrangements for a cleaning service specializing in “hazardous clean-ups” to come in and clear out the trash that accumulated because he could not take his trash out so it was strewn about the living room, kitchen, hall, etc. I set up a payment plan with the resident to pay in installments to our Office to reimburse the property. I then made arrangements with Social Services in the county to check in with him and arrange medical care, and finally, set up a caregiver to come in five days a week to help with meal preparations, medication dispensing, and cleaning his apartment (at his expense). The Owner was furious with me. I do not for one minute regret my decision to do the right thing for this gentleman.
Hoarding and other situations we deal with as property managers can push us to become social workers. Yes, we run a business and want to run our businesses to net the most profit. We also want to add value to our communities and sometimes evicting residents in these situations is not the most ideal thing to do. There are choices. Making the best choice for the situation requires courage and determination.