How to Deal with Hoarder Tenants

Written on September 23, 2013 by , updated on November 1, 2017

Dealing with Hoarder TenantsFor landlords and property managers, discovering that you have a hoarder tenant living in one of your properties can be distressing.

In this article, I will discuss the steps you can take to protect your property without infringing on your tenant’s rights to reasonable accommodations.

Hoarding is a Mental Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, hoarding is a mental health disorder.  When hoarders become renters, they are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Why? Someone who is a compulsive hoarder meets the definition of disability because hoarding is considered to be caused by a mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life activities.

Types of Hoarders

What You Can Do:

Depending on their behavior, the hoarding may constitute a non-economic breach of the lease, which *could* be grounds for eviction. Though you can’t evict a tenant for hoarding, you can evict them for something else.

Check to see if your tenant is in breach of contract for any of the following reasons:

  • Directly damaging to the property
  • Blocking emergency exits
  • Interfering with ventilation or sprinkler systems
  • Storing potentially explosive materials
  • Keeping perishable goods in a manner that could attract mold or rodents
  • Housing animals in a way that breaks the law or lease agreement

There is a thin line between dirty tenants and hoarders, but either way, you should take action sooner rather than later.

Your Action Plan:

In these situations, landlords and property managers should take the following steps:

  1. Document Everything
    Document the condition of the property using pictures, notes and videos.
  2. Offer Help
    Offer the hoarder professional counseling and clean-up.
  3. Give Notice
    Put the tenant on notice and give them the opportunity to remedy the situation.
  4. Get Legal Advice
    Consult with an attorney if the conditions do not change.
  5. Eviction
    Proceed with an eviction if necessary. I detail these steps in the article, How to Evict a Tenant – The Eviction Process in 8 Easy Steps.

Related Articles:

Infographic

Source: AppFolio.com

photo credit: WickedVT, BuzzFarmers, Earthworm, scottnj via cc
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37 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Ann

    I have a hoarder moving out right now. I gave him proper notice just ending his rental agreement which was month to month after 7 years – he was outraged and has taken 3 and a half months to move and paid for a large u haul truck for at least 30 days of that tim – annoying 3 other tenants with truck blocking parking lot –extremely weird text messages to me–hopefully nightmare will end this coming Monday Oct 1 – I have been paid rent thru this time by my demanding it from him face to face – doing total reno

    • Lucas Hall

      Hey Ann,

      Man oh man, that stinks (literally!). The only advice I have for you is to not let up – stay on him like white on rice, to give him constant reminder that he needs to hurry up and move out. Once you set a “move-out” date that he has to abide by, do not accept any rent from him – otherwise you might be initiating another month-to-month tenancy.

      Keep all your receipts for the renovation, and take LOTS of pictures. Document everything. Don’t give him any of the deposit back. Unfortunately, it sounds like you will have to pursue him in small claims court for the rest of the money to pay for damages.

      After you know how much the damages actually cost you, I would absolutely file a small claims suit for the maximum allowed. At least you’ll receive a judgement upon which you can collect on later.

      Good Luck!!!

  • Lars

    Ugh, can’t stand hoarders or clutter. Nothing much else to add. I haven’t experienced this in my new career as a landlord. I’ll definitely table this advice for any future problems, if I can’t avoid them.

    • Lucas Hall

      I pray that you’ll never experience it.

      When I’m looking for tenants, I’ve developed a technique to try and determine if a potential tenant will be (or is) a hoarder. Basically, after a showing, I will walk the applicant back to their car.

      Besides being a nice gesture, it also gives me the opportunity to inspect the interior condition of the car. I don’t care if they drive a clunker, but I do care about how they keep the inside of it. If the backseat is piled the roof with trash and junk, they will probably treat your property the same way.
      I go into more detail in this article: Tenant Screening – What’s in Their Backseat?

      I really need to come up with a catchy name for this technique. Got any ideas?

  • matthew

    I have a prospective tenant that has a history of hoarding. I’d rather not set myself up for issues, but seeing as its a mental disorder, technically I can’t deny them based on that…correct? Secondly, if I do permit them to move in, are there adendums or anything I can have them signing that will make an eviction process simpler and easier should it come to that?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Matthew,

      If you must accept this applicant, I suggest requiring an extra fee, which goes to pay for a mandatory weekly professional maid service. Of course, you would have to require this of all applicants, so it isn’t discriminatory. This would ensure that it’s cleaned every week.

      Further, make sure you list in the lease, the actions that would cause a tenant to default on the lease. Besides failure to pay rent, you could specifically mention these items:
      – Directly damaging to the property
      – Blocking emergency exits
      – Interfering with ventilation or sprinkler systems
      – Storing potentially explosive materials
      – Keeping perishable goods in a manner that could attract mold or rodents
      – Housing animals in a way that breaks the law or lease agreement

      If the tenant does any of these items, you should send him a notice to remedy or quit. If he doesn’t fix it, then you could terminate the lease, and then evict them for the specific violation – which is not directly related to hoarding. Even hoarders (disability or not), are not allowed to block a fire exit.

      I would also suggest that you make a professional carpet cleaning mandatory and the responsibility of the tenant, after the tenant moves out.

  • bill

    just had a hoarding family vacate a large apartment. LOTS of damage. I learned from this tenant that I need to get previous rental history and check landlord references. Hoarders tend to damage property. landlords tend to not give good references for people who damage property. Therefore you would not be rejecting their application based on hoarding, but based on rental history/references. I’m open to correction on this thinking…

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Bill,

      I 100% agree with you. I would never accept an applicant if they were clearly a hoarder, or had bad references from a landlord. The part about hoarding being a disability only comes into play if 1) they claim the disability, and 2) they are already your tenant and you are trying to evict them.

  • Marie

    My tenet is my elderly mother, she said of course when she moved in , that she did not want to do this here ( her last home was beyond a nightmare) of course she did. The house stinks terribly , and more than anything it breaks my heart. We did make her pay 2 thousand damage deposit, but I know that will not cover the cost of cleaning it up when she dies … I am considering requiring her to get involved in Hoarders Anonymous… if she wants to stay , but I don’t think that will work it looks like. Is there anything I can do?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Marie,

      I would just caution you to be careful when “requiring” her to do anything. If she wanted to claim a “disability” she probably could.

      You might just have to wait until her lease is up, and then not renew. If she doesn’t leave, you’d have to evict her. But then clean up the mess, and sue her for the excessive damages.

      Hoarders cause more damage than malicious tenants, and I hope you can get her to leave willingly soon.

  • bemusedly appalled

    This article is incredibly offensive or at best unfairly pejorative toward tenants who have the “mental illness” of hoarding or clutter problems. Actually, the trend in understanding this disorder now is that it is a neurological or brain disorder – which while incredibly debilitating and problematic in many cases, has nothing to do with meaning a sufferer is clearly insane, or that he has no insight into his plight, just doesnt care, or isnt trying to get better and struggling to improve his affliction. “It’s just gross”, “If you can’t get them on x, y or z you can try to just evict them over something else”, “disgusting”, etc. No denying that hoarding is or cause disability, damages, stress. But please pretend you can act human.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi mersaulte@outlook.com

      Thanks for your comment. I think you misunderstood. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness among landlords that hoarding is a mental illness and a disability.

      Even if hoarding is a disability, it doesn’t mean they can block fire exits or create an unsafe environment. The fire marshall will evict a hoarder for blocking fire exits, and so can a landlord. Disability or not, safety comes first.

    • Rob

      I find it extremely offensive that as a landlord we have to flip the bill for the excessive damage that a hoarder does to an apartment or home. Because the person is ‘disabled’ that allows them to cause damage to a unit that could potentially cost the landlord/owner thousands of dollars. This law is completely bias and ridiculous.

      • Lucas Hall

        Hi Rob,

        You’ll be glad to know that your assumption is not true. A tenant, even a hoarder, is still responsible for excessive damage.

        Even in traditional disabled situations – the tenant is still responsible for repairs related to the disability. For example, a landlord cannot prevent someone from installing a ramp for a wheelchair, but the landlord can require the tenant to pay to remove it when the vacate. In the same way, a landlord can require a hoarder to clean the house when they leave. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the sickness, the landlord will probably have to go to court to get that money.

  • E.J.

    I am looking at a small building for sale with the largest unit occupied by a hoarder. I have not actually seen the unit. There is a stipulation that this apartment can only be shown with the current owner present. Obviously I am not going to buy anything I haven’t seen. The bottom line is that I want to buy this building. I have no idea at this point how to write in the demand for credits to restore the unknown damage that is behind that door. I want to make the removal of this tenant & restoration of the unit a condition of the sale. I know the current owner wants to sell the building as is. Even with the removal of the tenant as a condition (possible human rights issue) the notice time may mean the tenant is still there when I take over.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi EJ

      I would suggest that you tread cautiously here. If you make a condition that the owner can’t perform (like kick out the tenant) because of some claim to mental disability, you would be sabatoging your own offer.

      Wouldn’t it be better to submit an offer that ensures you get the building, with the caveat that you know the lease situation and know how much notice you would need to give, and that youve seen the unit. After all, I bet you could get even more of a huge discount if you did buy it as-is with a hoarder (sight unseen). Then take that extra money and hire a lawyer to help remove him for damage to the property. Just my two cents. Then again, it might not be worth it to you to deal with the hoarder yourself. Just depends.

  • Kristi Kilpatrick

    I own a 2 apartment house that my sister shares with other tenants. She is the hoarder, having filled her own space as well as the shared laundry room, and half of the garage. Our question (among many others) is about our liability if there were to be a fire in the house and any of the other tenants were hurt or killed as a result. In addition to the horror of that happening, could we be sued by the families for allowing this fire hazard to exist? I took photos to a fire department once and was told they couldn’t do anything about it, but warned me that all of the that flammable material would make the house burn rapidly and uncontrollably. (Sorry for any typos, many of my words went out of the square to see if there are errors.) Thanks!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kristi,

      If I were in your shoes, I would cite that the living conditions are a lease and safety violation. If she claims that she has a disability, then I would certainly talk to a lawyer before responding. But up until that point, I would try to terminate her tenancy.

      With that said, she’s your sister – so that complicates things even more. But even blood isn’t worth risking someones life.

  • Nikki

    Hi, I have a big concern. Me and my mother live in the same building, recently I discovered that she is a hoarder. She has dirty dishes, clothes, old food, papers ect all over her apartment. Her refrigerator hasn’t been working since August I just found out…and of course she can’t call the landlord to report it, due to the way her homes is. They will I’m sure evict her. She basically has a walking path from her bedroom to the door…but its stuff all over. It smells in her apartment and wiry the dirty dishes and food left out that can cause bugs. I feel bad does others in this building cause we shouldn’t have to live around anyone like this. But I know the consequences of I involved anyone of authority. But something needs to be done.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Nikki

      I’m sorry to hear about your mom. For her own safety, something needs to be done. You need to help her while you can. If there were a fire in the building, she would likely get trapped in her unit. If she refuses your help, then I would do whatever it took to get her in a safer situation and get her the therapy needed to stop the habit. If the landlord or authorities find out, it might be too late for you to help.

  • Mary

    I have a verbal 30 days agreement with a hoarder,told him he needs to keep the place free of clutter. He shares a kitchen and hall with another person, I told him that common areas must be kept clean and no smoking inside,I also had an agreement with him, he works in maintainance, that I would deduct $200 off from his rent every month to maintain the yard and minor repairs . He has not lived up to this and is always sick, works too many hours etc In 17 months he did the yard about six times! I found him smoking in his room ,he left the kitchen dirty and food by door. asked him to clean it, 3 days later, it was still there.he spread out to the porch,three grills and a mess!you can not see the carpet in his room. He will not sign anything!

  • Randy McGufffey

    I’m in Ohio. I had a bed bug inspection done in a 2 bedroom apt in my 6 apt house. Tenant didn’t want to let us in even though I gave him 24 hours notice. A single guy has been renting from me for about a year. Rent always on time . Entry hallway about 5 foot wide x 20 foot long with just enough room to walk. A large living room with boxes stacked maybe first time I have seen this guy since he moved in.3 feet high. Nearly no access if any, larger bedroom no access. Kitchen counter tops and most of the floor covered with stuff. Small bedroom with small bed and boxes of stuff all around it. No furniture, no TV nothing but a bed.
    This was the Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  • NorCal

    I have a tenant who has jam packed everything, even one of the bathrooms plus a 2 car garage. A single professional who has been in residence for about 18 years. He has another home. He doesn’t let us come in for inspection, handles any repairs / maintenance himself. What do we do?

  • Douglas Larson

    Had a tenant lined up and allowed to move in and discovered a hoarder trove. I haven’t had her sign a rental agreement yet and I have not accepted any money from her, is there any way to back out of this? Her son agrees to move all of the stuff into a storage unit in 4 days and I’m going to inspect. Even if he does she will be accumulating more junk. I don’t want anything to do with this tenant, actually she is not an official tenant yet. Any advice?

  • kathy kovach

    I’ve been living in my apartment for over 16 years. The housing is for low income “people with severe mental illness”. Most apartments are”shared living spaces” our bedrooms are ours & rest of apartment is shared with up to 3 others. 6 people currently share 3 apartments. Landlord locked us out of garage and most of basement so they could store “confidential clients paperwork”. Have seen hundreds of boxes stored in furnace room alone. Did file complaints without any results. Short of moving out, any ideas as to how to get our storage back and stop a potential fire hazard THEY created?

  • Sasha Martin

    My current landlord is a hoarder. We live in a duplex. I am in the back and her house is on the street. She has 3 cars in front of our property , 2 of which are full of papers and have never been driven. Her garage, which happens to be right below our bedroom is overcrowded to the point that she can’t even open it without boxes tumbling out. I’m wondering how to act on this situation. Her behavior is only getting worse, we have lived here for 4 years. She currently doesn’t work and spends the day inside taking care of her ailing mother. I have 3 children and I am worried about a breach in the fire code. Any advice?

  • Keith L. Forest

    What if any addendum can one present to a tenant that addresses hoarding?

  • Maria Herman

    Would it be unlawful to take a photo from outside the apartment to document? Also can we ask him to remove or fix a car in his spot that has had a flat tire for the last 3 months? His car was clean when he moved in.
    He lately has told me that his mother struggles with hording, and I am seeing the diffident signs that he starting. I want to nip it in the bud.

    I appreciate the advice you have given so far.
    Thank you
    Maria

  • Hank

    I’m a hoarder. I get it, you wouldn’t want to live in a place that has things stacked up/piled up all over the place. But you don’t live in such a place. You rent a few empty rooms to a guy (or gal) and as long as you get your rent, why should you care? Yes, I understand the nasty pet thing, or if some bona fide safety issue is involved. But in my case, the landlord simply didn’t like all my crap sitting around (discovered by happenstance when entering the property for some other reason, an didn’t even give me the 48 hour notice required by the lease). I long ago purchased my own home, so no more hassle with landlord. Oh, by the way, when I left that apartment, I left it cleaner than it was when I moved in 9 years prior.

  • Bonnie Ann Potter

    Lucas, we signed with a new tenant who moved into our future home two months ago. They told us they are renovating a place nearby to move into after the 12 month lease is up. We just went to the house to check in with them and the house is a total mess and literally jammed packed with boxes to the ceiling in each room along with furniture here and here, mattresses on the floor, etc and 2 adults and 4 children “living” there. We were shocked and dismayed. I’m concerned about fire, rodents, etc. We have no idea what is in these boxes that are everywhere! Why would they want to live like that with children?
    Tx

  • Suzanne

    We just evicted a hoarder from a California mobile home. The mobile is beyond repair (it will be demolished) and is full of trash, human feces, animal feces, likely dead animals we can’t see, rats and fleas.

    California requires us to allow 15 days for the tenant to remove personal property. After 15 days, if the abandoned property is valued at $700 or less, we may dispose of it.

    Who determines value? We have an eviction services saying “what if tenant left $100,000 worth of jewelry buried in there?”.

    I’m trying to determine when we can safely dump everything. We cannot inventory it because of the hazardous/unsanitary conditions.

    This is worse than any hoarders TV episode ever!

  • PP

    A tenant moved in with a large amount of boxed items of which the boxes take up one bedroom and other spaces in the apartment. Boxes are neatly arranged. There is no damage to the unit or obstructions. No filth, odors, debris or garbage in the place. Nothing including smells is spilling from the unit into the common hall. There is a animal in the unit but no odors from it. Can I still consider eviction?

  • Litao

    I have a tenant collecting everything, and often put boxes in the hallway (he lives on the top floor). I kept telling him it is a fire hazard to do so, and he never listen.
    what is the best thing to do? call the city fire department?

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