By Curtis G. Kimble.
It seems to be coming up more and more often – hoarding and the problems it causes in condominiums and other attached housing. One condominium association I recently spoke with has a unit owner whose hoarding is preventing the effective treatment of a major cockroach problem in the building, which in turn is preventing an adjacent unit owner from being able to rent or sell her unit and is causing others to have to treat and spray for cockroaches at least weekly.
A court of appeals in Tennessee recently approved a board’s request to force the sale of a unit and ruled that the unit owner’s hoarding, and the nuisance and health threat it created, violated the association’s CC&Rs (4215 Harding Road Homeowners Association v. Harris). The court unanimously agreed that a forced sale of the unit was not only the appropriate remedy, but “the only remedy” possible since the owner refused to correct the problem and because of the impact on the other residents of the “grossly offensive odors” and other problems the hoarding created.
Before filing the suit, the association had a professional bio-hazard cleanup company that cleans crime scenes and gross filth and hoarding situations come in and spend nine hours one day and fifteen hours the next cleaning the unit. Multiple odor bombs had to be set off and three commercial dumpsters were filled with massive amounts of filthy debris, molding paper products and rotting food. Bleach had to be used to clean the mold off the walls and windows and then the unit was repainted. The property manager personally did thirty-eight loads of laundry for the unit owner. Other residents pitched in, some paid for the unit owner to stay in a hotel and others brought her meals.
But that solution only lasted a few months before the residents that shared the unit owner’s HVAC air stack were again faced with nauseating, unbearable odors. This time, the unit owner refused to allow the association to help remedy the problem, despite repeated attempts.
That particular association had a very unique provision in their governing documents which specifically authorized the association to sell a unit as a remedy for persistent and serious violations of the CC&Rs. So, this remedy won’t be available to most associations in Utah, but other remedies are available to an association or to an affected unit owner (almost all governing documents prohibit nuisances, for instance). The Tennessee case highlights the importance of the fact that no single unit owner can be allowed to affect the safety, quality of life and enjoyment of property of the remaining residents. As discussed in this blog post, hoarding fueled a recent condo fire in Arizona, as well as several others.
As with any enforcement issue, the board, or an affected owner, should start with the least threatening and most amiable methods possible. In-person conversations, phone calls and letters should courteously explain the problem and ask for compliance, and should only escalate from there if necessary. The unit owner needs to understand the broad consequences and effect of the problem, including health and safety concerns. At least two or three letters should be sent clearly identifying the issue and what is needed to cure the problem so there is a paper trail documenting your efforts.
If those efforts are unsuccessful, it’s important to obtain evidence of the problem. Subjective, general assertions from a neighbor or witness won’t count for much. It’s important to have specific details described in writing. And photographs are always best. Keep a detailed record of everything that transpires relating to the unit and the problem. If the health department or fire department will come out and issue citations (I’m not necessarily saying they will), that will help a great deal in documenting the problem for a court action.
It’s important to remember that hoarding reflects an illness that needs to be treated with sensitivity. But, it’s also important to remember that the actions of one person can’t be permitted to destroy the right of every resident to use and enjoy his or her unit. Use common sense and consult your association attorney as necessary.