You’ve heard about it, seen it on tv, everyone has a story about someone who knows someone who is a hoarder.
Have you wondered what happens when the hoarder is your tenant?
Surprisingly, or maybe not if you’ve been a landlord long enough, it’s not as easy as evicting the tenant and charging them for the clean up and the damage they created.
Although the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) provides landlords some tools to evict problem tenants, in the case of a hoarder, the Human Rights Act also comes in to play. And the Human Rights Act actually overrides the RTA.
The courts and Landlord and Tenant Board now generally consider hoarding to be the result of a mental illness and under the Human Rights Act a landlord can not discriminate against a person with a mental illness. In fact, a landlord must actually make significant efforts to accommodate them up to the extent that it does not cause the landlord undue financial hardship.
What does this mean? It means that as a landlord, with a hoarder as a tenant, you need to be aware that you will have to actually assist them to remedy their living situation. This may include helping to clean up their unit or helping them to find assistance to remedy their situation, such as suggesting organizations which help hoarders or cleaning services to assist in disposal of the hoarders collections.
While the RTA provides a landlord with the ability to evict a tenant who is a hoarder and whose activities are causing unsafe, unhygienic conditions for other tenants and damage to the landlord’s property, landlords will find that their usual remedies for eviction will be hampered by the Human Rights Act. You can expect the usual notice periods will be extended and that tenant will be given lots of leeway to remedy their situation.
What is a Hoarder and How do You Know You Have One?
First and foremost, it is in your best interest, to do sporadic inspections of your rental units. This is a right you are now given under the RTA. This may help you spot the problem early and hopefully negate any damages. You are required to check smoke detectors every six months, so use this entry (once you have given 24 hour written notice including a 2 hour time window of when you will be entering and the purpose of your entry) to do a visual inspection for any suspicious behaviours.
What are you looking for? Basically lots of items being kept in areas you wouldn’t expect. For example the kitchen counters are stacked with things other than small appliances, the stove is being used for storage, the dining room table can’t be seen, the carpets are filthy and stained, unusual smells, bags piled up, narrow walking corridors. Individually these aren’t problems, but put a few of them together and you may have a hoarding situation. Hallways and points of exit which are blocked and items piled up near heaters or on the stove present a genuine danger to you, and your tenants.
What Do You Do If You Discover That You Have a Tenant Who Is a Hoarder
Your first step is to take pictures and document the situation. You need to be sensitive and not take pictures of what may be considered private areas ( beds, bathrooms etc). Use common sense here. If the tenant is present, you can try and talk to them to discern what is going on. Again sensitivity is key. Ask them if they are able to clean up the unit. See if they are open to assistance. Ask if there is anything you can do to help.
You would then follow up with an N5. Normally this is a 7 day notice to fix the situation. Depending on the extent of the hoarding, this may not be reasonable and you would need to give them more time. Ideally follow up with a letter stating you would like the unit cleaned up and again ask them to contact you if there is anything you can to do help them. If you know of an agency who is willing to help financially (ODSP if they are on it, or other community organizations) provide that contact info in your letter. Your responsibility is to show you have offered help, and it has either been ignored or refused. If you are not provided with enough information on what is wrong then you cannot be held responsible for accommodating the issues.
If you believe there is a safety issue here, i.e. combustibles near an ignition source, you can also call the fire department for an inspection. Be careful here as the inspector, if they find a problem, may issue an order in your name,as well as the tenant`s, and then it becomes your responsibility to clean up the problem and get it reinspected. It`s best to use this only as a last resort.
The key here is if the situation isn’t resolved to your satisfaction after following all avenues open to you, and you end up at the tribunal, you must show that you have done what you can to not only accommodate the tenant, but also provide help. If the tenant hasn’t responded to your N5 or your offers of help, you are more likely to gain an eviction or an order to your benefit.