Your tenants have the right to the quiet enjoyment of their home without you telling them how to act, but there are some lifestyles that threaten the health and safety of your property. Tenants who are very messy or who suffer from a hoarding disorder create an environment where the rental unit is unhygienic, a fire hazard and at risk for major property damage. You often don't have the option of simply evicting tenants for these conditions, as that action may run afoul of the Fair Housing Act, due to hoarding being a recognized mental disorder. Up to 5 percent of the American population suffers from a hoarding disorder, according to WebMD, so it's important to know the proper steps for handling this situation to avoid penalties for accidentally discriminating against a protected class.
Hoarding Warning Signs
You don't need to enter the property to see several hoarding warning signs. One telltale sign you have a messy tenant or a hoarder is a smell strong enough to come outside of the rental unit. If the rental unit is part of an apartment building, an increase in pests in adjoining units can indicate a problem. Structural damage may be observed from units below the hoarder unit as well.
You can mitigate the risk of messy and hoarder tenants by writing cleanliness standards into the lease. Outline your expectations in advance and make it clear that you expect a certain level of cleanliness to be maintained while the tenants live in the property. You can also make it clear that tenants must maintain safety standards, such as keeping doors unblocked to adhere to fire codes.
Inspect the Property
If you suspect a tenant is a hoarder, you may want to gain access to the property to get a look at the severity of the situation. If you already mention a regular inspection in your lease agreement, you have the grounds to enter the property during the standard inspection time. If you don't, you may face resistance from the tenant when it comes to entering the property on a non-emergency basis. Explain your concerns and your desire to work out a mutually agreeable solution with the tenant.
Work With the Tenant
If a tenant is simply messy, explaining cleanliness expectations can often fix the issue. Young adults and college students living on their own for the first time may not realize how clean they should keep the rental unit.
For hoarders, the tenant may request reasonable accommodations due to his disability. The Fair Housing Act allows for reasonable requests from the tenant, although you aren't forced to compromise your property's safety or the health of other tenants in the same building. Collaborate with your tenant to address the problem and provide a reasonable amount of time to comply with your requests before considering further action.
If a hoarder or messy tenant doesn't fix the problem, you may need to pursue an eviction to minimize the damage and health problems associated with that rental unit. You can't evict a tenant based on hoarding, as that's a protected class, but you can start an eviction based on a breach of your lease clauses. Property damage, failure to adhere to cleanliness standards and fire hazards are potential options for this type of eviction.
A messy or hoarder tenant is a complicated situation to deal with, particularly with the Fair Housing Act regulations. Do your best to come to an agreement with your tenant before you run into major long-term problems with your property, or encounter high turnover from adjacent tenants.
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