Bill Morris in Building Operations on August 5, 2022
What should a co-op board do — and not do — when it's made aware of a hoarder living in the building? Follow these steps:
Give notice. “A first step in resolving the problem is to contact the shareholder and send a notice pointing out there have been complaints of odors and infestations and demanding they take immediate steps to correct the problem,” Bonnie Reid Berkow, a real estate attorney at the firm Adam Leitman Bailey, tells Brick Underground.
Gain access. A co-op board has the right to gain access to the apartment. Your board should have the super gain access to look at the condition of the apartment and consider the best way to eliminate bad odors and pests. The bylaws will outline the notice you need to give for access. Usually reasonable notice is 24 or 48 hours.
“If the shareholder lets the super into the apartment, you can begin to evaluate the scale of the problem,” Berkow says.
More often than not, letters to the shareholder and notices will be ignored, in which case you may have to compel access by seeking a court order.
Involve a third party. In some cases a board can seek the help of a family member or relative who can persuade the shareholder that they need to clear the junk from the apartment and give it a thorough cleaning.
“There are service providers dedicated to clearing the junk from the apartments of hoarders,” Berkow says. The shareholder may also be willing to move items to storage.
In the absence of a relative, you can reach out for help to Adult Protective Services, an agency within New York City’s Department of Social Services. “They will attempt to reach out to the individual needing help and seek to engage the appropriate steps to resolve the problem,” Berkow says.
In some cases, you may have to ask the court to appoint a guardian for the shareholder who is hoarding, if the court feels the shareholder is unable to comprehend the seriousness of the problem. A guardian is a person or agency to whom the court gives authority to take responsibility for an individual and make decisions on their behalf. This will involve filing a petition in court.
The last resort: eviction. As a last resort, a co-op board has the right to terminate the proprietary lease and remove the tenant shareholder for conduct that is in violation of the lease and has not been cured after notice. An eviction and termination of the proprietary lease can either be accomplished after serving a notice to cure, or by terminating the lease for objectionable conduct in what is known as a Pullman Proceeding.
These proceedings can be time consuming for a board and in either event you will need to provide the proper notice to the shareholder and produce witnesses who can testify how the conditions are affecting their ability to live comfortably in their apartment. That's not easy to do, and that, among other reasons, is why an eviction proceeding should be your last resort.
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