Hoarding Q & A

1.What is hoarding? Is it considered a disability?

The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM-IV”) listed hoarding as a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and referring to it as “compulsive hoarding”. However, researchers and clinicians found that hoarding did not respond to traditional OCD treatments. This led to a redefining of hoarding in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM-V”) as a discrete disorder independent from OCD. The disorder is now referred to as “Hoarding Disorder”.
The diagnostic criteria for Hoarding Disorder are:

  • Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value, due to a perceived need to save the items and to distress associated with discarding them;
  • Accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use;
  • Clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others); and
  • The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition (e.g., brain injury), or better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., OCD).

2. Are people who hoard protected by fair housing law?

Yes – hoarding behaviors that violate health and safety codes or violate a tenant’s leave are indicative of a disability, and individuals who hoard are protected by the disability related provisions of fair housing law.
Manifestations of hoarding that may violate a tenant’s lease include:

  • Odor
  • Infestation
  • Blocking Exits
  • Fire Hazards
  • Blocked Exits
  • Papers near stove, heating vents
  • Storing combustible items
  • Feces, untended litter
  • Damage to carpets, other property
  • Health/Fire Department Citations
  • Unusable bathroom facilities

3. How can fair housing law help people who hoard?

People who hoard are entitled to “reasonable accommodations” when faced with adverse housing actions as the result of their disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are changes in policies and procedures that allow a tenant to remedy violations created by the hoarding behavior.
Common accommodations include:

  • Extra time to allow a tenant to clean out his or her apartment in order to pass a housing or subsidy inspection;
  • Extra time to allow a tenant to access and utilize services to address the hoarding behavior and underlying causes; and
  • Agreement to a payment plan that permits a tenant to catch up on unpaid rent when the tenant used rent money for his or her hoarding activities.

4. What should an accommodation plan include?

To effectively address the impact of hoarding behaviors, an accommodation plan must include both a short and long term plan. Imminent threats must be dealt with as soon as possible, and a strategy must be developed for reducing the chance of future violations. Behavior therapy and a network of support are often essential to long term success. The accommodation plan must also address unpaid rent, damage to property or other related issues.

5. How clean does one’s unit have to be to avoid adverse action?

People are allowed to live in their homes and apartments and to fill those homes and apartments full of belongings that others might consider garbage so long as…

  • Leases are followed; and
  • City ordinances are followed.

Focus should be only on solving legitimate health and safety issues rather than attempting to achieve ideal housekeeping habits Generally, you should ensure the following minimum safety guidelines are met:

  • Working toilet and sink;
  • Adequate walking paths in rooms used on a regular basis;
  • Safe walkway (flooring uncluttered);
  • No infestations of insects and/or rodents;
  • No excessive accumulation of garbage; and
  • Absence of fire hazards – no combustibles near radiators or stoves, no blocked exits, no overloading of outlets

6. If a tenant has already been served with an eviction notice, is it too late to request accommodations?

No – accommodations can be requested at any time, even after eviction proceedings have been initiated. Courts have the authority to stay eviction proceedings to allow a tenant the opportunity to utilize social service agencies that would assist him/her in cleaning his/her apartments and regaining compliance with lease terms. See e.g., Douglas v. Kriegsfeld Corp. 884 A.2d 1109 (D.C. 2005).

7. Is there a limit on how many times a tenant can be accommodated for hoarding behavior?

No. There is no set limit on the number of times a tenant may be accommodated for hoarding behavior. However, accommodation will not be required if a tenant violates his or her lease and/or health and safety codes repeatedly, or if prior efforts to accommodate have been unsuccessful.