New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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A Primer for Co-op and Condo Boards on How to Handle Hoarders

Mark N. Axinn in Building Operations on August 1, 2023

New York City

Hoarding, vermin, guardians, Adult Protection Services, co-op and condo boards.
Aug. 1, 2023

With aging populations, many co-op and condo boards are struggling with residents whose abilities to care for themselves are greatly diminished. In some cases, an elderly shareholder or unit-owner may only need greater attention from her neighbors and building staff. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some residents have not thrown anything away for years and they've been hoarding rotting food and containers for months and years. Some of these individuals actively bring trash into the building, live with vermin, mice and roaches. These hoarders present health and safety risks to both themselves and their neighbors.

And it is not an uncommon problem. The American Psychiatric Association defines Hoarding Disorder as "Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value." The association states that the disorder affects 2.6% of the overall population, with higher rates for people over 60 years old and for people with other psychiatric diagnoses, especially anxiety and depression.

What is a co-op or condo board to do?

First, we recommend attempting to contact relatives who may take an interest in the individual. Often they are out-of-state, and sometimes they may not be aware of the scope of the problems. As family situations are different in each case, relatives’ willingness to assist with a troublesome resident varies widely.

If there are no known relatives and no one is willing to intervene, the building may have to take action directly. Various New York City agencies and private organizations may be able to assist, including Adult Protection Services (APS) and Selfhelp/Naturally Occurring Retirement Community Services, but both have limited resources and require the individual’s cooperation or a court order to access an apartment. If APS is allowed in the apartment, it can perform a deep cleaning of the unit and arrange for on-going extermination services.

In instances where the shareholder refuses access, a co-operative may have commence a proceeding in the applicable Landlord and Tenant part of the Civil Court and seek appointment of what's known as a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), who will have the power to address pressing physical conditions. While the case is filed as a holdover eviction proceeding, usually the aim is not to evict a shareholder from her home. Rather, the goal is to obtain the help she needs but may not be able or willing to request. 

Finally, the option of last resort is to seek a guardian pursuant to Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law in State Supreme Court. This action is far more involved than a request for a GAL in a Landlord-Tenant proceeding. In an Article 81 case, the court usually requires an evidentiary hearing with witnesses before a guardian is appointed with varying powers that may last for several years.

We have seen all of the above circumstances in recent years, and expect that co-op and condo boards will continue to face similar issues in the future as the population grows older. Now is the time to review your building's occupants and plan for possible action.

Mark N. Axinn is chair of the cooperative and condominium practice group at the law firm Phillips Nizer.

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