Archive for February, 2014

 

Handling Hoarding in Condominium Associations

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Association governing documents are generally effective in enforcing compliance with issues like use of common elements, uniform appearance and maintenance. More difficult are issues relating to occupant conduct and the safety of residents, particularly when there may be underlying mental health issues at play. In these cases, fines and violation letters may prove ineffective. In 4215 Harding Road Homeowners Ass’n v. Harris, a Tennessee appellate court upheld a ruling evicting a condominium owner from her home, terminating her ownership rights and allowing the sale of the unit to go toward the Association’s legal costs, which had exceeded $100,000.

As of May 2013, Hoarding Disorder has been recognized as a psychiatric diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association. As a result, owners and occupants with hoarding disorder may request a reasonable accommodation, which further complicates matters for Associations and managers.

Community associations may be affected by individuals with hoarding disorder in a variety of ways. The most basic is simply the accumulation of clutter in common elements outside of units. More serious are fire hazards, health concerns, structural support issues and damage to building components. Although an Association has obligations to maintain the property and protect the safety of its occupants, a volunteer Board and its management are placed in a difficult position where those obligations impact individual privacy and mental health issues.

Because of the nature of the issue, the Board and its management may not become aware of the issue until it has evolved into a problem. In some cases, once a unit is full, the accumulation of clutter may spill out onto balconies, decks or common elements. This is typically dealt with in a common fashion, including violation letters and/or fines relating to aesthetic concerns or misuse of common elements. This may only be the beginning of a far more complicated problem, which may include cleaning the unit (often through a biohazard cleanup company), documentation and removal of items, storage costs, and in some cases fines and assessments for costs attributable to the unit.

If the Association discovers that an occupant is hoarding in a unit, it triggers concerns with health, fire and structural issues, as well as legal issues relating to enforcement. The first step is to try to evaluate the potential problem. Most Associations can request a unit inspection under their governing documents, and the Condominium Act provides for access through units for the purpose of maintenance, repair and replacement of common elements (see RCW 64.34.328). Typically, governing documents require an owner to maintain their unit in a safe and sanitary condition, so the Association can attempt to enforce these provisions. Associations may wish to consult with counsel to review their governing documents and adopt rules to clarify the obligations for unit maintenance, unit inspection and cleaning.

Additional resources include fire departments, which may inspect for fire hazards, and police which will in some cases, perform wellness checks if there is a health concern. Non-profit organizations may also be a valuable resource, as they can assist in trying to provide mental health services, evaluations and guidance. Locally, the King/Pierce County Hoarding Task Force includes members from numerous governmental, non-profit and private agencies.

The approach to each case will depend on the willingness of the occupant to communicate and cooperate with the Board, the severity of the problem, and the health or safety issues created. In all cases, however, the Association should fully document its efforts, consult with community association counsel, and work within its governing documents to try to address the issue.