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Tenant's hoarding is a 'safety hazard.' What to do?

August 08, 2010|By Martin Eichner

Question: My elderly aunt has rented the same apartment for more than 15 years. Recently she received a warning notice from the manager requiring her to remove her accumulated belongings from the unit because they "constitute a safety hazard." When I called the resident manager about the warning notice, she said my aunt was a hoarder. I know that my aunt has difficulty discarding possessions, even old newspapers. I don't think she can control this behavior, and I am worried that she may have some kind of mental illness. Is there anything that can be done to protect her housing?

Answer: The first step for you or your aunt is probably to talk with her healthcare provider. The provider should be asked whether your aunt has an identifiable medical disability that interferes with a basic life activity such as maintaining the order in her living situation.

If so, your aunt may be entitled to request a reasonable accommodation, if the medical provider is willing to put this opinion in writing. The provider does not have to provide specific details such as the exact diagnosis or include any medical records.

The resulting written opinion should be given to the apartment management with a request that your aunt be provided a reasonable accommodation. Once you take these steps, management is supposed to work with you to explore options for the accommodation.

In cases where hoarding has resulted in a request for a reasonable accommodation, various solutions have been explored such as having building maintenance help remove some items or finding a local volunteer organization to help organize the property. However, it is not reasonable to insist that your aunt be allowed to continue to accumulate items if that activity is resulting in a health or safety hazard in the rental community.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mediation service. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.

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