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. Massachusetts hoarding laws are therefore to be found in the discrimination protections.
Limits to Hoarding Law Protections Established in Falmouth Housing Corporation v Flynn
There are limits to hoarder protections, as one recent court decision demonstrates.
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.
Considerations for Property Owners Concerned their Renter is Hoarding
If you are concerned or if you can see for yourself that your renter has created an unsafe or unsanitary condition, you should first talk with them. See if they recognize the problem and want to get help. If you get lucky, they will say yes.
Failing conversation, most rental agreements, including the MassLandlords Massachusetts rental agreement, require the renter to maintain the premises in a clean and sanitary condition. This gives owners a chance to evict for violation of this clause by hoarding.
It would help your case to have a third party witness. Renters cannot create conditions that violate the building or sanitary code. You can call the local fire department of division of inspectional services to get an assessment or a citation issued against the renter.
Finally, landlords of hoarders can contact their local social services agency. Note that many are unresponsive and all are unable to force treatment; your renter has to want to get help.
Your best bet to correct a situation is to try all three methods. Talk to your renter, take them to court over third-party verified violations, and notify your local social services agency. A court can order treatment for hoarding, and the social services agency can step in to take action at that point.
A list of hoarding social services is available at MassHousing.