COACH's Pop Quiz!

Q: In response to a neighbor’s complaints about odors coming from a tenant’s apartment, you enter the unit and discover stacks of moldy newspapers, open food containers, unwashed clothing, and other debris strewn about, including in places where they obstruct windows and emergency exits. What should you do?

a.         Immediately evict the tenant for creating a nuisance and danger to the health and safety of other tenants.

b.         Initiate an eviction action while being on the alert for an accommodation request.

c.         Let the problem slide because the tenant might be suffering from a mental disability.



A: b. Landlords don’t have to offer or provide accommodations unless and until tenants with disabilities or their representatives request them. But you and your staff need to understand that people with a hoarding problem may have a mental disability known as hoarding disorder. And they often seek to conceal their problem. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t request accommodations. But they may not do it in a way people with other disabilities do. Instead of saying, “I need an accommodation for a hoarding disorder,” they’re likely to frame their request as something they “need” or “want” because of their problem. While subtle and indirect, this may be enough to constitute a valid accommodation request. As HUD guidelines explain, all a person has to do to make a reasonable accommodation request is make it clear to the housing provider that they’re requesting an exception, change, or adjustment to a policy, practice, or rule because of a disability. That’s why you and your staff need to be extra sensitive and tuned in when pursuing legal action against a hoarder. So, b is the right answer.

Wrong answers explained:

a. is wrong because the tenant might be suffering from hoarding disorder, which is a mental disability requiring reasonable accommodations under fair housing laws. So, immediate and automatic eviction of tenants for engaging in hoarding is a liability risk.

c. is wrong because even if the tenant does have a hoarding disorder, the duty to make reasonable accommodations doesn’t require you to tolerate significant lease violations that threaten the health and safety of others. The key is to recognize that the tenant may have a mental disability and be prepared to engage in the accommodations process as necessary.

For more guidance on this tricky topic, see our March lesson, Take 9 Steps When Dealing with Tenant Hoarders, available to premium subscribers here.