She was in her 80s and she lived alone in a 65-unit co-op on the Upper West Side. It was only when a knockout stench started emanating from her apartment that the neighbors took notice. When the mice and flies arrived, it became clear that something had to be done.
“We received several complaints,” says the co-op’s property manager, Joan Konow, principal at Key Real Estate Associates. “We attempted to reach the resident and sent correspondence to the sponsor who owns the unit, and he, in turn, sent legal paperwork to his tenant. We learned that the senior citizen occupying the apartment had serious hoarding issues, which was having an effect on her neighbors across the hall who were trying to sell their apartment. As legal bills loomed greater, so too did the smells and the anger of her neighbors.”
This case wasn’t on a par with the notorious Collyer brothers, two hoarders who died in their junk-stuffed apartment on Fifth Avenue. Even so, upon discovering a hoarder in their midst, many boards and property managers dial up their lawyer and initiate legal proceedings to force the offending party out of the building. But this board decided to take a more compassionate approach.
“Our office and the board president met with the tenant directly, and we offered assistance,” says Konow. “The super volunteered his time to help her clean the unit. The board president, after talking with the board, offered to have her apartment painted and the floor refinished. Once the debris was removed, the odors were completely alleviated. The resident was so pleased with her ‘new’ living space that she talked about planning a dance party in her apartment. While the party never materialized, neighbors on the floor now say ‘hello’ to each other, which they hadn’t been doing before this happened.”
Of course, people who hoarded in the past merit close scrutiny in the future to ensure that they don’t return to their old odiferous and vermin-attracting ways. But the drama at this co-op taught the manager that there’s a time when the thermonuclear legal option may not be the best way to go.
“It isn’t always as effective as direct contact,” Konow says. “Sometimes, the community can have a big impact on a bad situation by focusing on the human side of things and extending a helping hand to be good neighbors.”
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