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2024 Hoarding in California: Legal or Public Nuisance?

Hoarding laws in California address the complex issue of hoarding behavior and its impact on safety, sanitation, and housing conditions. These laws are primarily enforced at the local level through building, health, and safety codes. Hoarding is recognized as a mental health disorder and thus, responses to it often involve a combination of legal enforcement and mental health intervention.
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What is Hoarding?

Hoarding involves accumulating so many items that managing the resulting clutter becomes overwhelming, making it challenging or even impossible to discard possessions. According to “Mind”, this behavior often stems from a compelling urge to retain items, yet this attachment can cause significant distress and negatively impact daily life [1].

Hoarding disorder is a mental health problem that a doctor can diagnose. But you might also experience hoarding as part of another mental or physical health problem.

Individuals who hoard may exhibit several behaviors, including:

  • A persistent compulsion to acquire more items, despite already having numerous possessions.
  • Intense positive emotions when acquiring new items.
  • Significant distress or anxiety at the thought of parting with items due to a deep emotional attachment.
  • Difficulty making decisions about what to keep or discard.
  • Challenges in organizing possessions effectively.
  • Accumulation of so many items that basic living spaces become unusable—for example, beds or sinks may be obstructed.
  • Frequent disagreements with family or friends over the hoarded items.
  • Complications in preparing for trips or vacations, often packing far more than necessary due to indecision over what is essential.

Understanding and addressing hoarding behavior involves recognizing its complexities as a mental health issue and considering the broader impacts on an individual’s life and relationships.

Also Read: Personal Injury on Rental Property

Is Hoarding a Crime in California?

According to Rainbow Restoration, there are no laws that prohibit hoarding, but there are rules against the problems that hoarding can cause. Hoarders have the right to manage the objects in their homes as they see fit—as long as their behavior doesn’t violate housing codes or their obligations to maintain the dwelling [2].

Situations that might lead to eviction include:

  • Inflicting actual damage to a rental property
  • Obstructing emergency escape routes
  • Disrupting fire suppression systems or air ventilation
  • Storing combustible materials improperly
  • Accumulating perishable items that lead to mold growth or pest infestations
  • Keeping animals contrary to the terms of a rental agreement

Landlords may pursue financial restitution for any damage to the property resulting from hoarding activities.

How to Evict a Hoarder

Despite the disorderly environment, many hoarders develop a strong emotional attachment to their possessions and may feel more secure surrounded by them. The APA notes that hoarding disorders affect about 2 to 6 percent of the population, including those residing in single-family homes.

When dealing with a tenant who is a hoarder, it’s crucial to handle the situation with legal and ethical care. Hoarding is recognized as a disability, making individuals with this disorder protected under the Fair Housing Act.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), people with hoarding disorder have a hard time getting rid of things, leading to excessive clutter that prevents them from using their living spaces properly. Hoarding is not the same thing as collecting. Collectors gather specific items, such as model cars or stamps, and typically care for, display, and store their items carefully. In contrast, people with a hoarding disorder may keep anything and everything, and typically store their things in a very disorganized way [3].

Thus, landlords cannot evict tenants solely based on their hoarding. Nevertheless, tenants can be evicted for breaching specific lease terms. For instance, if the lease agreement requires tenants to maintain the premises in a clean and orderly manner, failure to comply can initiate eviction proceedings.

Issues such as severe hoarding can lead to blocked exits, structural damage, and disrupted safety systems, which might necessitate eviction. Similarly, improper storage of perishable goods can pose health risks and attract vermin, while storing dangerous materials may create safety hazards.

If you encounter such conditions, it’s imperative to proceed carefully:

  • Document all observations meticulously, establishing a detailed record from when you first notice the hoarding behavior.
  • Offer assistance to the tenant, such as help with cleaning or accessing professional mental health support.
  • Provide the tenant with a notice detailing the issues, giving them a chance to rectify the situation.
  • If the tenant fails to cooperate, consult with a legal expert to prepare for potential eviction.
  • Engage local health or building code officials if the situation violates community standards.
  • Initiate formal eviction proceedings if necessary, following all legal guidelines and lease terms.

Handling a hoarding situation requires a balanced approach that respects tenant rights while ensuring property safety and compliance with housing standards.

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