How to Deal With a Hoarding Tenant

If you are a landlord with residential properties, then you have probably dealt with your share of problematic tenants.  You may have dealt with tenants who don’t pay rent on time, who bring in pets or long-term guests without permission, who make too much noise, etc.  You may have dealt with a hoarder.  Hoarding in a rental unit can not only damage the property itself; it can also lead to significant health and safety issues including mold, rats, bugs, and fire hazards.  If you have a tenant who hoards, how should you proceed?  Continue reading for tips on handling a hoarding tenant without creating legal troubles for yourself, and contact a knowledgeable San Diego landlord-tenant attorney with any questions.

Hoarding is a mental disability

Before serving a notice to cure or quit, be wary.  Hoarding has been recognized as a mental disability, and a more complex approach may be required to avoid infringing on your tenant’s rights and running afoul of California’s disability laws.  Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on hoarding and require landlords to make reasonable accommodations.

Look for other breaches of contract

If the tenant’s behavior is causing other damage or problems, then you may be able to cite breach of contract rather than simple nuisance for a reason to terminate the lease.  Look at the language in the contract and then ask these questions:  Is the tenant causing damage to the property?  Blocking emergency exits?  Interfering with ventilation or sprinkler systems?  Storing explosive or other hazardous materials?  Keeping perishable foods in a way that attracts rodents or insects?  Housing animals in breach of contract?  Finding specific grounds for breach of contract will significantly strengthen your legal position.

Document everything

In order to avoid legal troubles down the road, it is vital to record everything.  Take videos, photographs, and notes of the condition of the property.  Document your visits and conversations with the tenant.  This will all be useful evidence down the road in case you need to get a court involved in removing the tenant, or if they try to sue you after their lease is terminated. 

Try to accommodate the tenant

Federal and state laws require that, if the tenant is truly suffering a mental disorder, you make efforts to accommodate.  Offer professional counseling or clean-up services.  The more effort you make to solve the problem before asking the tenant to leave, the better position you will be in if you end up having a dispute with the tenant down the road. 

Serve a notice to cure or quit and give the tenant time to cure

If the problem is out of control to the point of creating health and/or safety hazards for your other tenants, then it may be time to ask the tenant to leave.  California courts are more friendly to eviction if you provide the tenant a notice to cure or quit, rather than simply a notice to quit, even though it may not be mandated by state law.  Many local jurisdictions do require that a notice to cure be served first.  Give the tenant time to fix the problem and, if they fail to do so, only then proceed with further measures. 

Evict where necessary, with the help of an attorney

If the tenant fails to cure, then you can serve a notice of lease termination or nonrenewal.  Now is a good time to consult with an attorney if you haven’t already.  Your California real estate lawyer will help you through the next steps if eviction becomes necessary.  If the tenant refuses to leave, you may need to initiate unlawful detainer proceedings, and you will want an attorney on your side if you end up going to court.

If you’re a real estate investor facing a legal issue in California, get help from seasoned and professional legal counsel by contacting San Diego real estate attorney Jon Alan Enochs at 619-421-3956.