This article first appeared in Inside Housing on 11 May 2015.
Hoarding is a complex behavioural phenomenon. It is widely misunderstood despite becoming increasingly a popular subject for television programmes such as The Hoarder Next Door and Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.
Hoarding ranges in seriousness and the likelihood of improving really problematic hoarding is poor. Typically hoarders have a strong emotional attachment to their belongings and find discarding items difficult. With the tenant’s and other residents’ safety often at risk due to the level of clutter, landlords often find it difficult to know how to best deal with these tenants as initial concerns and warning letters may be ignored. Simply clearing out the property is likely to be met with resistance and could worsen any underlying issues.
Here are five top tips on how to deal with a hoarder tenant without the camera crews and the help of Britain’s Clean Team.
1. Does the tenant have mental capacity?
In cases of extreme hoarding it is very important to assess whether the tenant has capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 before taking any action. Under the act a person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established he or she lacks capacity. But whether a tenant has capacity is specific to each circumstance and needs to be assessed depending on the course of action you wish to take.
For example, if clearing the property is appropriate, does the tenant have capacity to consent to the removal of the items? Does the tenant have capacity to respond to litigation? A tenant’s capacity may come and go, for example depending on episodes of alcohol/substance abuse and/or whether they are properly taking any medication or engaging with support services.
2. Multi-agency hoarding protocol (MAHP)
Dealing with hoarding can require the cooperation of the landlord, adult social services, mental health services and the fire brigade. Multi-agency meetings will help focus on whether any safe guards need to be put in place for that tenant or other residents and whether there are any children or animals at risk. Further referrals to GPs or Environmental Health are likely. Having a MAHP in place means that if you need to issue court proceedings you can show that you have had regard to your duty under s.149 of the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. eliminating unlawful discrimination) and that you are not acting unlawfully.
3. Tenancy support services
You will need to consider what support services have or should be offered to the tenant. You may want to consider regular visits to the tenant, counselling, access to day centres to reduce isolation and an introduction to adult social services. A court will be more likely to grant a possession order if support and assistance has been offered and it is no longer working or the tenant has ceased to engage.
4. Suitable alternative accommodation
You may consider offering suitable alternative accommodation, for example sheltered or supported accommodation. If you find yourself in court for possession proceedings, the court will want to know why it has not been offered.
5. Recording decision making
The decision making process should be clearly recorded and should document whether the tenant is vulnerable, the impact of physical illness or disability on their behaviour, what efforts you have made to resolve the problem without going to court, and the effect on the neighbours. Well-reasoned decisions support and improve the chances of court success.
Just as there is no such thing as a typical hoarder, there is not one typical solution which will fit each hoarder case and bespoke solutions will be required. The key is to have early consideration of all of the relevant factors, with recorded notes of communications with all relevant agencies, so that if you do need to take action, you are best placed to succeed.