The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as “the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them,” and notes the following characteristics as signs and symptoms: cluttered living spaces, inability to discard items, acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items (including trash), excessive attachment to possessions, and discomfort letting others touch or borrow possessions, among others.
Currently, there are many articles and resources available on the internet about the health hazards associated with hoarding, as well as the emotional/psychological effects hoarding can have on the individuals who engage in the behavior and those close to them. This article is meant to focus on how hoarding behaviors can pose serious problems to the property the hoarder lives in.
The California Health & Safety Code receivership remedy is utilized to address the health and safety concerns stemming from the conduct of hoarding by residents in neighborhoods across the state. A Health & Safety Code receiver will typically enlist the assistance of adult mental health professionals in order to effectively assess and remedy the issues associated with the condition of the property, while respecting the serious mental health concerns of the occupant.
Below are some common health and safety concerns related to properties occupied by individuals with hoarding issues:
- ACCESS- The property may be rendered inaccessible if too many belongings accumulate. Blocked exit/entryways pose risks as access in and out of the house would be limited during emergencies. Moreover, access to certain areas within the house may also be obstructed. Access to the kitchen and bathroom are important for sanitation reasons. If access is blocked, individuals may be injured while trying to navigate through the house, out the door, or up the stairs, which could become a liability issue if a visitor is injured.
- MAINTENANCE- Large piles of items may obscure signs that the house needs utilities maintenance, like heat, running water, sewage flow and refrigeration. For example, if the kitchen is completely full of belongings, an occupant may not notice a damaged pipe which is leaking under the sink. Another example involves the collection of perishable items, like food. If the piles of perishable items begin to rot, flooring can be destroyed as the items decompose into it.
- FIRE HAZARD- There is also the risk of fire hazard. Once a fire has started, it would quickly spread if the house was packed with items and/or trash. This issue is of special importance to Southern Californians, and San Diegans in particular, who have been experiencing an upsurge in the number of wildfires every year during “fire season.”
- APPEARANCE- The home can be deemed a public nuisance if the hoarding behaviors are significantly affecting the safety and/or appearance of the property. Of course, this is more likely to happen if the collection of items spills over into the yard, in plain view of the public. Neighbors are likely to become concerned if the home’s appearance does not keep up with the appearances of the other homes in the neighborhood. Many residents feel that one unattractive or ill-maintained house on the block drags down the property values for ALL of the homes and damages the reputation and pride of the neighborhood “as a whole.”
All these factors contribute to lowering the property value. These factors also make the property an insurance risk because of all the potential safety hazards. While there are many public and private agencies who try and get involved in remedying the problems caused by hoarding behavior, the goal is always the same: to help the individual struggling with hoarding habits to change their behaviors in order to live in a safe environment.
Richardson “Red” Griswold is appointed by courts in California to act as a Health & Safety Code Receiver. Mr. Griswold also acts as the Director of the California Receivership Group, LLC, San Diego Division. For more information, please contact Griswold Law.
For more information on this topic, see the related articles on receivership remedies here and here, and options for dealing with dilapidated properties here.