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Government to the Rescue

The Low-Down

This is a very important story, and it’s critical to many co-ops that are facing a similar problem – an aging population, where people are refusing or failing to maintain their premises, but are not allowing people access to inspect it. They live in deplorable conditions. There’s excessive storage and improper hoarding resulting in an unsanitary condition and/or fire hazard that constitutes both an unsafe and dangerous condition for themselves, their neighbors, and first responders. The board clearly has a fiduciary duty to its residents to maintain a safe premise and to protect the residents against personal injury and property damage.

The Weigh-In

I have three ongoing hoarding cases in which people have failed to cooperate and/or refused to allow access. Two are senior citizens and one is a middle-aged individual, and they all have one thing in common: they lack a support team, they apparently don’t have friends and/or family members nearby to provide assistance and intervention on their behalf. Maybe we could have resolved it. The individuals may be able to operate outside of their apartment, but once they get into their apartment, they are unable to remove the clutter and the debris.

The boards tried to be sensitive and reached out – to mediate, to arbitrate, to work with them, even to allow the staff to help them remove the debris. After failing to get these people to comply, we contacted Adult Protective Services, which generally works. I always find that getting the municipality to file a violation creates the necessity for the hoarder to work with the board to correct the problem.

The Outcome

In two of the situations, the senior citizens have worked with the Department of Buildings (DOB) to remove the violations, and each of them will be moving into assisted-living premises. The middle-aged person is refusing to cooperate and is totally unresponsive. We’re in the process of getting a warrant for her eviction, unfortunately. I presume that when the warrant comes, she’ll be more than willing to cooperate.

The Take-Away

The board should try to determine through its super who in the building has a hoarding problem. The board needs to be sensitive to the needs of the handicapped and disabled, but it also needs to protect and ensure the safety of the residents. As I indicated, Adult Protective Services is one option. Also, try to determine, with the managing agent, if there’s a family member who can attempt to intervene and assist the board in facilitating the correction of the problem.

Worst-case scenario, you need to get the Department of Buildings to file a violation. Managing agents are frightened of the DOB coming into their buildings, out of concern that not only will they see this condition, they’ll see others. But I find it is really the only device to get hoarders to comply.

A board needs to identify problem residents. Then it needs to react in a constructive way, with civility, to try to make the hoarder understand that enforcement and compliance are not only for his or her protection, but also for the safety of the entire building. In the end, a board needs to ensure the protection of all the residents in the complex.

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