Podcast 103: Hoarder Tenants

Hoarding is a compulsive action where someone acquires and saves massive amounts of something with no real value. The behavior can lead to disastrous conditions for the person’s home. In this episode of Night School, we’ll look closely at the circumstances surrounding hoarders and what landlords can do if one of their tenants meets the description.

Transcription: Hoarder Tenants

Jeff: Welcome to Landlord University Night School. I’m Jeff Pearson and I’m here with my cohost, Stephen White. Hello Stephen, how’re you doing?
Stephen: Pretty good, Jeff. We’re going to be talking about hoarders today and hoarder tenants. I think everybody has an understanding of what a hoarder is based on those reality shows that I think you see on TV. I think every network’s got one or two of them now. “Buried Alive”, I think is one off the top of my head. “Hoarders” I think just uncreatively the one title of it. There’s enough shows out there and all you need is a 30-second commercial or spot to see what these houses look like.
As a landlord, it should scare the hell out of you. You don’t ever want to deal with that in your rental property. For a lot of landlords, this is a nightmare for them because hoarders just became recognized within the past year and a half I’ll say, I think it was May 2012 if I’m not mistaken, they were recognized by the American Mental Health Society as being a disorder. What does that make a hoarder now? A protected class.
Jeff: A protected class, exactly.
Stephen: That is correct. For a landlord, this can be a landmine of compliance if you’re trying to get rid of a hoarder or you’re trying to deal with a hoarder. We’ll break that down and talk about some of the things that landlords can do to protect themselves and ultimately how to deal with hoarders if you do end up renting to one.
Jeff: Great.
Stephen: Okay. To speak in terms of a proactive approach, how do you avoid renting to a hoarder? A couple of different things you can do. I’ve heard a lot of landlords talk about looking inside of people’s vehicles when they show up for a showing. Usually their vehicle is a good reflection of what their home is going to look like. If they’ve got junk piled in the back so that you can’t even sit back there and there’s stuff all over and stuff piled in the front seat, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that that’s how their living habits are going to be as well.
Jeff: Yes.
Stephen: So that’s usually a pretty big red flag warning sign right there.
For some of the landlords that are willing to go the extra mile, I know this is debated, I know some landlords say they won’t ever do this and some landlords insist on doing this every time – check out their current property. Some landlords will take a drive and check out their current place. Some landlords tell tenants that they want to do it almost like an inspection with the tenant before they agree to rent to them. That, to me, might be taking it a little far. I don’t know a lot of tenants that are going to be thrilled with that. You’re coming across as a really hard to deal with landlord at that point, so you’ve got to find a balance there.
Taking a peek at their current habits is definitely one way of getting an indication of what type of a person they are. Obviously talking to their current landlord, their previous landlord, getting an idea from that perspective. Hopefully they’re aware of any hoarding situations as well.
Hoarding is not one of these things, also, where they’re going to just decide to be a hoarder for you. They’re already a hoarder. They’re already living in a place that’s going to have problems.
The only way to protect yourself on the front end if you’re going into the situation, let’s just say that they were able to cover it all up well enough and you just had no idea and now you’re about to rent to a hoarder. The one addendum that’s going to save you is something that’s called the “good housekeeping” addendum. It’s an addendum that you add to the lease and it basically outlines your parameters for what you consider to be keeping the rental unit in good order and good housekeeping order.
That addendum makes it a lot easier to end the lease or to remove them from the property if they’re in violation of that addendum specifically, because that addendum’s going to talk about the condition of the premise and what you consider to be clean. So if they’re in violation of that because they’re hoarding and they basically have one path to go through the whole place and they’ve got stuff piled everywhere, it becomes a safety issue. There’s all kinds of things that you’re going to take action against them not based on their disability, not based on them being a hoarder, but based on the condition of the unit instead.
Jeff: Right.
Stephen: So a good housekeeping addendum is super important to have. Again, you need that on the front end. You need to have that signed when they sign the lease and that is something that needs to be in place already. If you don’t have that and you find out your tenant’s a hoarder, let’s say you bought a property and you didn’t go through and check the property out and now you find out the guy’s a hoarder, you can’t shove a good housekeeping addendum under his nose, have him sign it and then evict him that month. It’s got to be something that’s already in place. So that’s something you need to be proactive about during the signing of the lease and have prepared.
Jeff: And if you don’t have it in place, then I would assume that when that lease is up for renewal, you can implement it at that time. The problem is if you’re already seeing signs of them being a hoarder, like you said, you can’t just say, “Okay, we have a new lease. Time for you to sign this. Oops, you have to go.”
If you feel that they are a hoarder or they’re on that path when their lease comes up, then it’s time to ask them to leave. Don’t try to use that addendum as your way of kicking them out. That will get you in trouble really fast.
Stephen: Here’s the interesting part about this, especially, like I said, with the hoarders being recognized as a mental disorder now, as a landlord, if you do end up renting to a hoarder, the process for getting rid of them is not as easy as a typical tenant because there are fair housing laws that protect these people, and part of what they’ve put in place is they say that landlords have to work with the person to try and make the home habitable again. So what you do is you have to schedule with them a timeline for when you’d like the place to be cleaned or in good order, and you have to meet inspection requirements and all kinds of things like that.
It becomes a real inconvenience and just kind of a pain in the neck for landlords who now have to deal with this because now you’re babysitting this tenant, you’re going over there, you’re checking their progress and how the clean-up’s going. It becomes way more involved than what most landlords want to get into when you’re dealing with somebody that ultimately you just want to get rid of them anyway.
Jeff: Yes.
Stephen: Now you’ve got a whole lot of time and energy invested into trying to get rid of them the correct way. In the meantime, you’re trying to follow fair housing laws and trying to give them a place that’s habitable. Even though they’re the ones that made it inhabitable, it’s still your responsibility to make it habitable or oversee that it’s being made habitable.
It starts getting into a really weird area where landlords have to really manage this property more than you would ever normally have to with any tenant typically. Like I said, the landlords that I’ve heard first-hand that have had to deal with this, it just becomes a real nightmare because of course there’s a whole group of people that are waiting to try and help and protect that tenant who they see as having a mental disorder and they’re in this bad place.
As a landlord, you’re looking at it from the property perspective. They’re destroying your property, damage is being done. Every day that they’re in there, it’s going to get worse. But from their perspective, they’re about to lose their home and there’s somebody with a disability and they can’t be kicked out that easily. It’s not a fun situation to be in for the landlord at all.
Jeff: No. I think to a certain extent, when you’re dealing with somebody who is a hoarder, I’m not an expert but just trying to use some common sense, it’s not something that usually happens over night. If you, as a landlord, you rent your place out to somebody, in the first six months to a year, odds are you’re not going to see excessive signs of hoarding. You’re going to see some decent signs, but it’s not going to be at the point where they only have a path to go from the front door to the bathroom or whatever. That takes a little bit more time.
If you’re concerned about hoarding in general, and I wouldn’t say about a particular tenant, it probably wouldn’t hurt to plan to do an inspection after the first six months that somebody has moved in and then do an annual inspection. I don’t know if doing inspections twice a year really makes a lot of sense. Certainly, as a landlord, if you really want to protect yourself, do an inspection every month. That’s not going to make your tenants happy. You’re going to start to put yourself into some questionable areas. They could almost say that it was harassment.
I’m not talking just about hoarding; it could be about anything. It just could be general inspections and you have to do it within reason. Annual inspections make a lot of sense. When you first rent a place out, maybe do a six-month inspection and give your tenants a heads-up when you rent to them. “Look, I like to make sure everything’s in good shape and I like to do an inspection after about six months just to be sure that we’re good to go. Then I’ll do one at the annual timeframe and then every year I’ll do an annual inspection.” Hopefully those will give you a heads-up as to whether you’re starting to see signs of that and you can hopefully head it off.
Again, if you start to suspect that someone is a hoarder, if you have reasons to kick them out that don’t pertain directly to that, you can take advantage of that. If they are definitely a hoarder, then you’ve put yourself in a position that you have to follow all of the rules of the Fair Housing Act and you have to be honest with yourself and pay attention to the law. The goal is not to skirt the law. The goal is to make sure that you’re following the law as closely as possible.
Ultimately, obviously these people do have some type of mental situation. It’s been recognized by the law. You want to make sure that you’re taking care of them as well. Unfortunately, it will end up meaning a lot of work for you.
Stephen: Right. A couple of warning signs that you might want to look out for for anyone who hasn’t watched any of those hoarding shows. I think I’ve watched enough to spot them a mile away. Usually it’s people who claim to be “collectors” and they’re usually collecting things that most people probably wouldn’t collect. If you do that six-month inspection and you’re walking through and you see a collection of pizza boxes or pop bottles. Junk is certainly one thing, but just sort of the flea market type of people who are always going and buying as much stuff as they possibly can and there’s really no rhyme or reason to it. Those tend to be people that I would classify as hoarders where enough is never enough and they’re always going to be looking to fill that thing up with more and more stuff, more junk.
Yeah, you definitely want to look for some of those warning signs. I think it’s a great point that you make about the six-months, then year mark and then continue it from one year to the next. But at that six-month mark, hopefully there’s enough writing on the wall that you’d be able to not literally hopefully, but hopefully there’s enough things as you’re going through that walkthrough to be able to spot it and start seeing some of the signs too.
Jeff: Yes. During that six-month walkthrough, make sure you’re looking for things that you can take care of that allow you to take care of your tenant, going back to the whole business thing. Is there a light fixture that isn’t quite right or just something relatively minor that you can use to show them that you’re there to help them. This isn’t an inspection to be looking over their shoulder. Rather this is to make sure that everything’s in good shape. You’re looking for the condition of the apartment for things that you can help them with. I think any time you do an inspection, that’s an important thing to do.
Some time in the relatively near future we’re going to be doing an episode about annual inspections, which is going to go along with some good documentation that I know you’re working on. I think that’s going to be a really good discussion when we get to that point.
Stephen: Yeah, I think you’re right and I think that some of the most successful landlords that I’ve certainly seen have always found a way to protect themselves and also genuine. Not just make it appear, but genuinely have it serve two purposes, just like an inspection. Go in there to genuinely look for those type of things like the light fixtures, just making sure that things aren’t clogged or whatever. Going through and making sure that everything’s in good order but it’s also serving two purposes. You’re doing it to also protect yourself.
The landlords that really found the way to do it the best come across as genuinely helping these people and genuinely going through this for a good purpose, but they’re also doing it for the reason of protecting their interests and protecting their property as well.
Jeff: Yes. Just like when I’m dealing with an employee, when I’m dealing with a tenant, one of the questions I always like to ask is, “If there was one thing that you could have fixed, what would it be, one thing that you would like to have improved?” They might give you a great response that is just something that you could do in a heartbeat. It’s like, “You know what? I could get that taken care of now. Let me head over to the hardware store, get something, and I’ll be back and I’ll have that taken care of.
Other times it’s a long term thing. It might be something like, “Yeah, it’s a little bit expensive but you know what? I really want to do that for you, but it’s going to take me a few months to put everything in place. I’ll work to get that taken care of for you.” It could be the sprinkler timer. Some of those things can be so frustrating. Or it could be the thermostat. There’s an old style thermostat. They would really love to have an electronic thermostat with timers. That’s a $30 fix.
Stephen: And a win-win. It’s going to save you on utility costs and everything else.
Jeff: Exactly. Whether I’m paying those utilities or they are, it’s going to save on the utilities and it’s a 10-minute fix. I could go to the hardware store… or an hour by the time you’re done. Go to the hardware store, pick one of those things up, come right back, change that thing out. I know how much that makes me feel better when I have that. I’m happy to do something like that, especially if it’s something they point out when I just say, “What could I fix or what could I do to make this better for you?”
Again, the reasonable tenants will give you that simple little thing that will make them really happy and it’s fun to be able to do. So always keep that in mind.
Stephen: Yeah and that $30 thermostat may be the difference between a one year and out lease or a long term tenant that’s there for five plus years.
Jeff: That’s right.
Stephen: Make no mistake that we’re talking about hoarders but on the other end of the spectrum, the inspections and things can also help identify the really good tenants too, and those are the ones you want to take good care of them.
Jeff: And if you’re renting a place worth thousands and thousands of dollars, you don’t do a $30 thermostat. You’d do a $250 Nest or one of those fancy ones. We talked just recently about gearing your rental towards these tech-savvy young people, so maybe that would be appropriate. But the $30 thermostat can make all the difference in the world. It doesn’t always have to be the expensive option. But sometimes, pay attention to whether your long term benefit for spending the extra $100 or $200 may be more than worth it.
Stephen: Certainly.
Jeff: Again, we’ve had another fun and very interesting episode. And really, people need to pay attention to the fair housing laws about hoarders. You don’t want to discriminate against them and you can’t just choose to kick them out because they’re hoarding. You have to make sure you follow the laws. If you suspect it, then you need to start to do some research, and we’ll do our best to provide some information about that on the RentPrep website.
Stephen: Certainly.
Jeff: Great. Thank you, Stephen. I look forward to talking with you tomorrow evening.
Stephen: Great. Thanks, Jeff.