Accommodating Hoarders: Falmouth Housing v Flynn

By Peter Vickery, Legislative Affairs Counsel

Hoarding is a behavior disorder that affects many people across the United States. Its accumulated impact creates urgent health and safety problems for those afflicted, and for their neighbors and landlords. Because hoarding is a disability, landlords of hoarders have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations.  There are limits, however, as one recent court decision demonstrates.

20 Edgerton Drive in Falmouth, where the hoarding took place. Falmouth Housing Corporation, falmouthhousingcorp.org

Falmouth Housing Corporation v. Flynn

When a five-year effort to accommodate a tenant with a hoarding disorder failed, prompting a notice to quit and summary-process action, the District Court awarded possession to landlord, the Falmouth Housing Corporation. The Appellate Division upheld the decision. The name of the case is Falmouth Housing Corporation v. Flynn.

From start to finish, the case took a little over a year. It started in May 2017, the trial occurred in June, judgment entered for the plaintiff in July, and the plaintiff filed her notice of appeal in August. Approximately one year later, on August 7, 2018, the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment.

The notice to quit outlined the cause for terminating the lease, but did not go into much detail (it was “unartfully drafted,” said the Appellate Division). It is easy to imagine circumstances in which an “unartfully drafted” notice to quit could lead some Housing Court judges to dismiss the case on the basis that the tenant lacked sufficient notice of the exact reason for termination.

What tipped the balance both at trial – which was, notably, in District Court, not Housing Court – and on appeal was the fact that after the landlord had invested in devising a reasonable accommodation, the tenant rejected it. As the Appellate Division stated: “Nothing in the applicable law requires a landlord to engage in futile efforts of accommodation”

As this six-year struggle shows, hoarding is a serious mental health and property management challenge the Commonwealth is ill equipped to address.

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