Throughout my 35 years in the property management business, it seems that I have dealt with every kind of incident and challenge that could possibly occur. And while many issues are discussed constantly—from the cost of fuel to the ongoing need to meet City regulations—there are some topics that many boards hope will never arise at all. Sensitive issues like bedbugs or other infestations can affect any type of building, and potentially have an impact on all residents. But even issues like hoarding exist much more frequently than you may think. And although it’s not a topic that most people want to discuss, it’s essential to recognize when it has become a situation that can impact the quality of life not only of the resident who is doing the hoarding, but of all of their neighbors as well.
It seems like nearly every building in the City has at least one person who is a hoarder or has tendencies in that direction. In fact, in one property we manage, there were numerous hoarders, which forced us to examine and address the disorder, which now is being treated like a disease.
The Infamous Collyer Case
Of course, you can’t start a discussion on hoarding in New York City without bringing up the Collyer brothers. Homer and Langley Collyer gained notoriety back in the 1940s for filling their brownstone, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 128th Street, from floor to ceiling with everything from newspapers to inventions to cast-offs from other people. They became recluses, rarely going out, and even booby-trapped the place to prevent anyone from breaking in and stealing their trove of “valuables.” Both life-long bachelors died in the building, and police theorized that Langley, who was caring for an ailing Homer, was crushed when he crawled through a tunnel of trash and set off one of his own booby-trap trip wires.
While it is doubtful that anyone could amass a mountain of junk comparable to the Collyers, it’s best to address a potential hoarding situation before it escalates. In one of our buildings, the board became aware of a hoarding situation because one of the unit owners spent virtually all night in the building lobby. The owner even began to use the staff bathroom, since theirs had been rendered unusable due to the amount of stuff “stored” there.
People with a hoarding disorder will tell you they are saving things for future use, or for a family member who might need an item, or because of the tremendous value of something, but it really is a disease that should be identified and treated.
Identify and Solve Hoarding Problems
In the case of this hoarder, we made a plan with the board and took appropriate action, enlisting the help of the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA), who helped the unit owner get counseling to recognize and address the problem. We explained to them that if the fire department ever came in they would get a violation, along with a fine, and that the accumulation of “stuff” in the apartment had become dangerous. We informed them that if we called the health department, they would again be cited, and would have to pay another fine. Eventually, through a concerted effort by the board and the management team at Rudd, combined with the threat of litigation, we were able to set up a program to clean out the apartment, monitor it on a regular basis, get an exterminator inside monthly, and return the place to a habitable residence.
In another situation, an estate took ownership of a unit in one of our buildings. The family lived elsewhere, never used the place, and never even cleared out the furniture and contents. Even food had been left inside the apartment when it was vacated. After other owners complained about the lack of use and the odors, we were able to convince the family to allow us to get into the apartment, clean out all the food, and set up a program of regular exterminating to prevent vermin and bugs from infiltrating the building. We even turned off the water to the apartment so there would not be any leaks into other units. Thanks to the diligent attention of our management team and the board, we are now discussing the possibility of selling this apartment to a neighbor who is interested in combining it with their apartment.
We even had a situation where people used their apartment as a storage unit. They did not live there, but kept going to the unit and adding stuff to it on a regular basis. In this case, we had to threaten to take them to court. Through careful and constant negotiation, and again, the concern of the board, we were able to convince them that they had to clean out the place, allow us to enter and inspect on a regular basis and to have an exterminator spray monthly. This situation is now well under control.
So if you find a hoarder in one of your properties, or someone manifesting those tendencies, there are things that can be done. First you must identify the situation, and you will need the help of the building staff for this. Then you need to work closely with the board to come up with a plan to help the person involved and get them to understand the serious consequences their behavior is causing—or might cause—to the building and everyone in it. And finally you need to monitor the situation on a regular basis to make sure the hoarding does not occur again.
Working together as a team, a good manager can help a concerned board solve hoarding problems in their building, and keep the property safe and well run for all involved. Rudd Realty has been providing Manhattan property management services since 1984. We work with all types of buildings, from co-ops and condos to rentals, commercial and mixed-use. Please call us to see how you can benefit from our expertise. 212-319-5000.