From the Forum – Seeking help for a hoarding resident


Seeking help for a hoarding resident:

“I live in a mid-rise coop building, where we own our unit and sit on the coop board. We’ve had a recurring issue with an elderly resident who is hoarding in their unit. Over the years, they have been cited for hoarding paint cans (empty and full) and papers, which is a very real fire hazard, particularly in a 1960′s, pre-sprinkler building. They were recently “checked on” by a board member, who found there were no surfaces to sit on in the unit, a fridge full of rotting food, no working lights or smoke alarm, and no stove, microwave, or other way to cook food – not that they’d have a clean place to eat it – and a pile of paint cans. Our concern is for both the resident’s health and the safety of our other residents, so I wonder if anyone has dealt with a similar situation in DC.

A quick recap of our past efforts: we’ve gone the neighborly route, with many residents offering assistance, including cleaning out the unit, but the resident fills it back up. We’ve gone through the board and cited the resident for violating our bylaws, but they haven’t complied. We’ve, sadly, gone the legal route and sought an eviction, which they were able to prevent with legal assistance from the AARP, so long as they agreed to keep the unit in safe condition. That clearly isn’t happening. Last year, the resident fell and broke their hip, but couldn’t get help for days, so they were stranded on the floor until a neighbor got worried and got the master key. Still, the hospital discharged the resident back home with no long-term solution. We’ve also involved local non-profit social services, but the resident refuses to speak to a social worker.

Long story short – this is a terrible situation, and we’re very concerned for the resident’s well-being. It’s clear this person cannot live on their own unassisted, but they’ve refused any help and have no family to intervene. We want to respect their privacy and independence, but we also have 30 other units to think of. A fire would be devastating to everyone. We want to help this person into assisted living, but don’t know how to do it short of an eviction.

Has anyone else run into a similar issue? Did you find an agency to intervene that helped? We’re worried contacting adult protective services could lead to more harm for this resident, who we only want to help.”

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33 Comment

  • Do what you said you dont want to do: contact adult services. done.

  • Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. We have a hoarder on our block. Over the years, city inspectors have come out occasionally and issued citations after observing the over stuffed backyard. The property gets cleaned up a bit and then goes back to its previous state. I understand the inside is similar to what the OP described here. The owner is also not interested assistance or able to keep the property in safe condition.

  • You were willing to evict the resident, but not call adult protective services? Come on. It’s a sad story, but it would only be sadder if someone in the building were to be harmed or have their livelihoods endangered by a fire.

    • OP here: To clarify, the eviction attempt happened before our time and, more importantly, before anyone realized that the resident’s behavior was so uncontrollable. The board had hoped it would be a wake-up call that the resident needed assisted living. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the outcome.

  • “Last year, the resident fell and broke their hip, but couldn’t get help for days, so they were stranded on the floor until a neighbor got worried and got the master key.”
    Are they also hoarding multiple personalities?

  • saf

    Wait, you’re willing to try to evict them but not call the agency set up to HELP them? Call adult protective.

  • I work for TLC’s Hoarding Buried Alive. Our offices are in Silver Spring, MD so it would be ease to drop by to see if we can help out. We provide the services of a professional organizer and therapist and can help hoarders get on a path to cleaning up without the threat of someone coming in and throwing everything away. If you have someone you think might benefit from the help we can provide email us at [email protected].

    Matilda Bode

    • OMG, I wish I had known this about a year and a half ago. I live in Silver Spring. My neighbor is a terrible hoarder and had a fire in her attic due to disrepair. Another neighbor saw the smoke early enough that there wasn’t major damage but she tried to stop the firemen from entering. Her home was condemned due to extreme hoarding (according to the county website) and it took her over a year to work through getting it up to code. She recently returned much to our neighborhood’s dismay. She is a really nice woman but simply not able to maintain her home or stop hoarding (this wasn’t the first major clean out in the 4 years we have lived next to her). It is only a matter of time until her house is once again full.

      • This isn’t by chance the house on Sligo that had the fire and has been undergoing repairs, is it? What an interesting/terrible situation.

    • This! I was totally going to suggest this.

  • Two possible resources depending on where you are in DC:

    They might be able to help our direct you to help

  • Settle down y’all. OP says the resident refused to speak to social workers. What are they going to do? Bring a battering ram for the door, tie the old lady (or man) to a chair, forcing him (or her) to look at assisted living brochures Clockwork Orange style?

    OP, you tried eviction once before and it failed. But there are new circumstances now– failing to keep the unit in a safe condition as promised, the very real and demonstrated health concern. I say you need to go the eviction route again, with all your document ducks in a row, and with the Adult Services SW standing by.

  • There seem to be multiple connected issues here. With regard to the hoarding — which potentially impacts the quality of life of all of your building’s residents — I’m startled that the elderly resident has allowed neighbors to clean out the apartment in the past. Would some of you be willing to do this again? And again? It’s an awful task, but it’s mutually beneficial, and has been at least briefly effective in the past.

    The health issues, are, of course, concerning. Is there someone that the resident is close to who could perhaps persuade her to get a LInk-to-Life type of system. They are inexpensive, and the one that I’m familiar with was monitored by or somehow connected with Sibley Hospital, so it was a local resource. I think Sibley, and/or Providence have programs that contact residents with regular, possibly daily phone calls. And Meals-on-Wheels provides not just food, but regular checks on elderly people.

    I realize, making these suggestions, that the resident might not be amenable to them, but if she is, it’s less drastic than eviction — which is unlikely to have a happy ending, at least for your elderly neighbor.

    • Sorry for the gender assumption slip.

      • I’ve never watched hoarders so I don’t know their majority gender, but the 3 I have encountered were all men. The one who lived in my apt. building DID accidentally set the place on fire.

  • I live in a building with an identical situation–an elderly hoarder that refuses to accept help, exposes the rest of the building to infestations and fire hazard, and has been hospitalized on two occasions, only to be released back to the horrid conditions she lives in. Over the years, I have contacted Councilman Graham’s office, the Office on Aging (who told me that if she won’t open her door and accept services, there is nothing they can do), Adult Protective Services (same), DCRA (who told me they have no jurisdiction over health code violations if the unit is not a rental), the Fire Marshal (who told me they have no authority to issue citations in residential buildings (this one I would have laughed at if it weren’t so terrifying). The last time she was hospitalized, we discovered she had no working plumbing in her unit. I even went so far as to FOIA DC EMS to try to find out which hospital which was taken to so that I could speak with her doctors and/or social workers to advise them of the conditions she lives in, only to run into dead end and have her sent home while we were trying to get help. We ultimately retained a lawyer, only to be told that it would be a long, expensive fight to do anything and that the courts would look very favorably on an elderly resident who seems to be functioning on her own because she pays her coop fees on time! We are a small building and can’t afford an expensive legal battle. I would love for city officials to step in and help with this problem as it sounds like this is a growing problem in our city. A couple of years ago after a couple of high-profile incidents, the mayor requested that a working group be established but I am unaware of anything coming of it. See Initiative 5.4:

  • This sounds SO much like a person who lives in my building. Honestly, I think the best thing you can do in that situation is call APS. You’ve already put in a lot of effort to get this person help. You said it yourself, the person is putting everyone, including him or herself, in the building in danger with a serious fire hazard. If you need more reasons: even if you get things clean in there, and do repairs, you’re putting the burden on the people in the building because that type of cleaning/upkeep/repair up isn’t cheap (in theory it’s coming out of the building’s budget) and can be disruptive (believe me, the smell that comes from that cleanup is not fun for neighbors) – but it’ll just keep happening.

    Short story – when someone is posing a danger to themselves or others, and they refuse to accept help, it’s out of your hands and you need to get professionals involved.

  • Shot in the dark here – but is the coop aware of any family contacts? If the person listed an emergency number with their application or even another party on legal documents, might be worth giving them a call and letting them know the situation, if they’re not already aware.

  • Hoarding is considered a rather serious mental illness (it used to be called Depression Baby Syndrome). A member of my family had it, and we were unable to clean out the house until she passed on.

    A growing number of therapists specialize in hoarding, however, and Adult Services will probably be able to make a referral.

  • Unfortunate… call A&E and get on TV.. in all seriousness, this is a mental illness. try here for suggestions

  • Relatives of mine evicted a resident in their high end co-op building a number of years ago. Similar scenario, although there was a spouse (who was still working and, understandably, was gone a lot. Their building took legal action. It took a while, but they were successful. If this person’s behavior poses a threat to others than you really have no excuse not to take action. I’ve been a Board member–so I know the need to balance responsibility against intrusion and this sounds like a case where you need to exercise responsibility.

    As a board member, you have a fiduciary responsibility and that translates into health & safety responsibility when people do things that threaten the integrity of the building. I have to wonder what your insurance requires in terms of minimizing threats to health and safety. You or your management company should have a decent real estate lawyer who can advise and also determine whether you could recover legal fees if the unit owner is evicted and the coop sells the unit.

  • Similar situation in my building, and the property manager has been very helpful dealing with this. Since there’s a legal imperative to keep the unit in safe conditions at one point the resident was essentially forced to accept weekly or monthly cleanings and the cost was billed to the resident. It’s a tough situation but if there’s a company that manages your building I bet they’ve dealt with it before and can advise on the legal rights of the building. In the case of my neighbor those that know him well say this has been something throughout his life and is not related to him being elderly.

  • There was an issue like this with a person living in my building, and also one of my relatives was a hoarder….In both cases the hoarders were resistant to help. Once someone notified the family what was going on, the family came in and fixed it. FAST. Neighbors look out for neighbors and people make calls all the time to a relative when an older person starts to become unsafe. I had an aunt who started to get dementia and was living alone. We are very grateful that her neighbor called her family and alerted them. Maybe try that approach?

  • I would reach out to the adult protective services or the mobile crisis team provided by the district. Mobile crisis services is available from 9 am to 1 am every day and can be activated through the Access Helpline on 1-888-793-4357.

    Mobile crisis services teams respond to adults throughout the District who are experiencing a psychiatric crisis whether in the homes or on the street and who are unable or unwilling to travel to receive mental health services.

    The teams provide crisis stabilization including dispensing medication and perform assessment for voluntary and involuntary hospitalizations and linkages to other services, such as crisis beds and substance abuse detoxification and treatment. The teams work with family members and the community based mental health provider, if appropriate, to help with follow up.

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