March 2020 Coach's Quiz
We’ve given you seven rules on how to comply with fair housing law when dealing with hoarding problems. Now let’s look at how the rules might apply in the real world. Take the Coach’s Quiz to see what you’ve learned.
INSTRUCTIONS: Each of the following questions has only one correct answer. On a separate piece of paper, write down the number of each question, followed by the answer you think is correct—for example, (1) b, (2) a, and so on. The correct answers (with explanations) follow the quiz. Good luck!
And this month, there’s an extra credit assignment: Judge for Yourself, a description of an actual court case. Test yourself on how the court should rule—and why—to see how much you’ve learned. The correct answers (with explanations) follow the quiz. Good luck!
After getting complaints from neighbors about noxious odors emanating from a particular unit, you discover that a resident has stacks of newspapers obstructing doors and windows, dirty dishes and open food containers, and piles of clothing and other debris strewn throughout his unit. Although the resident protests that he has a disability, you may refuse his request for an extended deadline to remedy the unsanitary conditions. True or false?
After discovering hoarding problems in a resident’s unit, you’ve patiently extended the deadline twice to give the resident more time to clean up the unit. Since he’s repeatedly failed to live up to his promises, you can refuse his request for additional time and initiate eviction proceedings without worrying about a fair housing complaint. True or false?
EXTRA CREDIT: JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
A resident lived in a one-bedroom unit at a community for 10 years. The resident had a number of physical and mental conditions and received Social Security disability benefits; her tenancy included a federally subsidized rent voucher.
In 2012, the community notified her that her unit failed an inspection due to hoarding conditions and specifically directed her to clean up her unit and create no less than three feet of access to her windows and doors. She was warned that if she didn’t comply, she would face eviction.
The community received complaints from neighbors of foul odors coming from her unit and safety concerns because of the immense amount of flammable material stored in her unit. The neighbor who lived on the floor above hers pleaded with the community to take action because of the fire hazards from the wall-to-wall garbage in the resident’s unit and an ant infestation coming from the resident’s unit into hers.
From 2012 to 2017, the community tried to work with the resident to address her hoarding issues. In the five years before commencing eviction proceedings, the community spent $1,700 for specialists to help the resident remove the clutter and debris from her unit. Two agencies and three individuals were offered to help her, but she wouldn’t let them into her unit and fired those who were there to help. She also rejected, by not responding, to offers of individual or group therapy to address her challenges. Eventually, she stopped answering her door or returning phone calls regarding conditions in the unit.
The matter came to a head in 2017 when the resident contacted maintenance staff that her heat wasn’t working. The staff determined that the heat was working but all of her heat registers were blocked by debris and that items were stacked floor to ceiling.
The community initiated eviction proceedings. After a trial, the judge awarded possession of her unit to the community, ruling that the resident violated the terms of her lease by causing damage to her unit though the accumulation of trash and flammable items, and in doing so, caused a health and safety threat to her neighbors. Although the resident had a right to a reasonable accommodation, the judge said that the community didn’t discriminate against her by its very efforts to accommodate and assist her over a five-year period. The resident appealed.
On appeal, how did the court rule?
COACH’S ANSWERS & EXPLANATIONS
Correct answer: b
Reason: Rules #3 & #4 apply here:
Rule #3: Listen for Reasonable Accommodation Requests
Rule #4: Evaluate Reasonable Accommodations to Remedy Hoarding Problems
Fair housing laws may require you to extend the deadline to allow the resident to remedy unsanitary conditions inside the unit. The resident’s statement that he has a disability and needs more time to clean the unit qualifies as a request for a reasonable accommodation. Follow your community’s policies and procedures for handling reasonable accommodation requests. Depending on the health and safety risks involved, you may not have to grant the request, but you do have to take it seriously by responding formally and promptly.
Correct answer: b
Reason: Rules #5, #6, and #7 apply here:
Rule #5: Engage in an Interactive Process to Resolve Hoarding Problems
Rule #6: Proceed with Eviction if Interactive Process Fails
Rule #7: Recognize that Residents May Get Multiple Chances to Remedy Hoarding Problems
Despite giving the resident multiple chances to clean up his unit, you may have to be flexible if he fails to shed enough clutter to remedy valid safety and health concerns. It may take multiple attempts, extended deadlines, or outside help to alleviate problems inside the unit.
Even if you have enough evidence to prove that the resident’s hoarding justifies eviction, you should be prepared for further delays when the case gets to court. No matter how patient you’ve been with efforts to address hoarding problems, the courts may be willing to put an eviction on hold to allow more time to remedy the situation.
ANSWER: JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
In a case involving a Massachusetts community, the court affirmed the decision to evict the resident for hoarding conditions in her unit.
The court rejected the resident’s claims that she was entitled to a reasonable accommodation to give her more time to address the problem. The community’s five-year delay in moving forward with eviction, coupled with the “flexible, interactive process” involving the parties to this case, was exactly the type of accommodation that fits within the meaning of applicable law.
Based on the efforts of the community, including expenditure of $1,700 on specialists to declutter her unit, coupled with her rejection of the accommodating efforts, there was nothing more that the community could or should do. And delaying the eviction was no solution either. Nothing in applicable law required a landlord to engage in futile efforts of accommodation.
Furthermore, the community did just what the law requires to determine whether the resident’s conduct posed a direct threat to others. The community engaged in an individualized, fact-specific, and objective assessment of her challenges. As found by the trial judge, the assessment morphed into the very accommodation necessary to address her disabilities. But her rejection of the accommodation resulted in behaviors that posed a direct threat to other residents at the community [Falmouth Housing Corp. v. Flynn, Massachusetts, July 2018].
See The Lesson For This Quiz
|Proceed with Caution When Responding to a Hoarding Problem|