Hoarding programs such as Hoarders and The Hoarder Next Door have become popular in recent times. This helps the average citizen understand that living with or near a hoarder can be difficult (Dante himself depicted hoarders in his fourth circle of Hell). Hoarding is a disorder describing a person’s persistent difficulty to discard possessions. It affects the person suffering the disorder and those living around them. It is not difficult to imagine the hygiene and safety issues, both for occupants and for neighbours, which arise due to the over accumulation of property. So, what can you do if you live next to a hoarder? Unfortunately, there is no straight forward answer and there are few effective options available to neighbours affected by hoarding.
In NSW, relief can be sought under the Local Government Act 1993. The Act permits council, if land or premises are not kept in a safe or healthy condition, to make an order requiring the owner or occupier to refrain from doing certain things to ensure that the safe and healthy condition is maintained. However, council action may not be enough to have any lasting effect.
Clean, litigate and repeat
A good example of the difficulties faced by neighbours and councils is the notorious case of Bobolas v Waverley Council  NSWLEC 442. In this case, the Bobolas family and Waverley Council have been in dispute for decades over the continuing accumulation of garbage on the property. At the centre of this dispute are the neighbours who are dealing with the smell of garbage, and the rats that are attracted to the garbage, on the property. In this matter, Council have forcibly cleaned the property 13 times and have made four attempts to sell the home to pay for the cleaning and legal costs resulting from litigation and the forced clean-up of the property. In each instance Council has been unsuccessful as the Bobolas’ pay the outstanding clean-up costs upon Council commencing litigation. The matter has been a continuing cycle of forced clean-up and litigation, all while the neighbours surrounding the property continue to suffer.
Another option to combat hoarding that exists in some jurisdictions is for the council to seek a zoning declaration that a property is being used for an unlawful purpose such as a “junk yard”. This still provides the challenge of prevention of the refuse from accumulation and only provides a method to force the clean-up. Once the property has been cleaned, the fact remains that despite the nuisance and risk to health and property values of the surrounding neighbours, people are often entitled to do as they please with their own property.