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Hoarders and Other Unstable Residents: A Board's Humane but Persistent Efforts

Stewart E. Wurtzel in Board Operations on June 28, 2012

New York City

June 28, 2012

One trustee, who lived locally, was unwilling to intervene and wanted nothing to do with the occupant, his own brother; the other trustee, a family member who lived on the West Coast, at first could not accept the description of the conditions, and subsequently could not convince the brother to do anything.

Police were called to the unit when it smelled as if someone had died inside. With the intervention of Adult Protective Services (APS), they removed the occupant for a couple of days for observation and testing. Although APS promised to have the apartment cleaned and fumigated on an expedited basis, the occupant insisted he be allowed to clean the premises and safeguard his property, and refused to cooperate with APS.

Injunction Junction, Here's Your Function

The condominium board had no choice but to seek an injunction compelling it be granted access to the apartment so that it could clean the unit and remedy the health hazards. The court issued an order mandating this access and permitting the condo board to have the place cleaned and sanitize at the unit-owner's expense. It was not until after the court's order was signed that the trustee came forward and agreed to undertake the cleaning.

Further complicating the matter was that the apartment was being foreclosed by its lender and the trust had no financial interest in the premises. The trust would eventually allow the bank to foreclose on the unit. The family relocated the brother at the time it made the repairs.

The unit was sold at foreclosure to a new purchaser. The condominium was able to recover all the legal fees and expenses it had incurred in connection with the matter.

Comment  From the time the condominium first demanded access to the time the unit was actually cleaned and sanitized took almost a year. In the meantime, residents on the floor and the building were dealing with horrific conditions. The condominium was very aggressive — it pleaded with family members to intervene and then turned to Adult Protective Services. When it appeared that the approach to the family was falling on deaf ears, it began the lawsuit and moved for an injunction.

Given how busy the judges are, it is crucial for a condominium to move quickly to address conditions created by a hoarder or other such problem occupant. However, given the time and expense of starting a lawsuit, all efforts must be made to reach out to offending unit-owners to resolve the problem without going to court. Every effort must be made to obtain their cooperation or, in appropriate circumstances, that of family members, especially in the case of the elderly. If no one can be found, boards should attempt to obtain assistance from APS or a community assistance group.

If all such efforts are unsuccessful, the condo board must go to court to enforce its bylaws.


Attorney Stewart E. Wurtzel is a principal of Tane Waterman & Wurtzel.

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