Many corporations have experienced their fair share of “messy” residents whose units look similar to their teenage daughter’s bedroom. That said, there is a difference between the casual “clutterer” and an individual who suffers from hoarding disorder.
What is hoarding disorder? Hoarding disorder is a recognized medical disorder characterized by persistent difficulty in parting with possessions, resulting in severely cluttered living spaces, distress, and impairment.
For corporations, hoarding poses a significant problem as excessive clutter and debris can lead to fires, floods, and pest infestations. In addition to being a danger to the resident themselves, the accumulation of excessive clutter and debris may also be in contravention of a corporation’s governing documents, including section 117 of the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act”).
It is important that managers, directors, superintendents, and security personnel alike identify individuals with hoarding disorder or individuals suspected of having hoarding disorder before a crisis occurs. Oftentimes this is difficult, however here is a list of some red flags to look out for:
- the resident continuously delays and provides excuses for allowing entry into their unit;
- the resident never requests any repairs to their unit
- there are no visitors and/or the resident hardly leaves their unit;
- frequent food order deliveries;
- pests (vermin, bed bugs, etc.);
- strong odours emanating from their unit;
- their balcony, terrace and/or storage areas are cluttered; and
- their neighbours have expressed concerns or suspicions.
If any or all of these warning signs are present, the resident may suffer from hoarding disorder and the corporation must take steps to assist the resident to clear up their unit. As hoarding disorder is a recognized disability, simply enforcing the corporation’s governing documents and compelling the resident to clear out their unit may not be the appropriate step to address the issue. In fact, not only is this an ineffective intervention strategy and will inevitably lead to a relapse, it may also be a human rights issue.
Pursuant to section 2(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to the occupancy of accommodation without discrimination because of a disability. As hoarding disorder is a recognized disability, corporations are obligated to reasonably accommodate the resident until the point of undue hardship. Rather than jumping the gun and having your corporation’s legal counsel send an enforcement letter and/or try to remove the resident, here are our recommended steps to address a resident with hoarding disorder:
- Inspect the unit: Pursuant to section 19 of the Act, the corporation or its agents, may, upon reasonable notice, enter a unit or part of the common elements of which an owner has exclusive use at any reasonable time to perform the objects and duties of the corporation or exercise the powers of the corporation. As mentioned in our previous blog post, the Act will soon be amended to allow for corporations to enter a unit without notice in the event of an emergency or other circumstances as will be prescribed. In the event that a corporation truly believes that there is a fire safety threat, section 19 of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (the “FPPA”) permits a Fire Marshal, an assistant to the Fire Marshal or a fire chief (“Inspector”), to enter a unit without a warrant and inspect the land and premises for the purposes of assessing fire safety. Pursuant to section 21 of the FPPA, an inspector may also order the resident to remove combustible or explosive materials or anything that may constitute a fire hazard.
- Identify the degree of clutter: Once the corporation has access to the unit, the degree of clutter should be assessed. The urgency and type of action required will depend on the degree of clutter present in the unit. We have created a Clutter Checklist, including the clutter image rating scale, for managers to use when assessing a unit. Our checklist can be found here.
- Create a reasonable and realistic plan: As we mentioned earlier, forcing a resident to completely clear out a unit may be detrimental to the resident and lead to a relapse. Instead, entering into an agreement and assisting the resident to clean-up their unit may be the best route. Creating a realistic time-frame will allow the resident to have some sense of control of their possessions. We also recommend that managers enlist the help of some qualified agencies that specialize in hoarding such as the Coalition on Hoarding in Peel and connect the resident to local support groups.
There is no one size-fits-all answer for addressing hoarding in a corporation. Each instance will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the degree of clutter present. When in doubt, consult your legal counsel for further advice and stay tuned for our Hoarding in Condos brochure coming soon!
This blog was written by Natalia Polis. Natalia was inspired to write this blog after attending the Institution of Fire Engineers Canada Branch’s Understanding Hoarding Disorder, Interventions and Strategies for Residential Property Managers seminar on November 21. 2018. For more information, visit their website at www.ife.ca.