Written by attorney Steven Christophe Williams

Tenant Hoarding (California)

Question: I have a hoarding tenant. I have asked him to clean his unit. It's been six months and the unit is still a mess. The tenant is seeking counseling for his problem and is now requesting more time to clean his unit. Do I have to give him more time?

Answer: Generally, a hoarding tenant is one who fails to dispose of a significant number of seemingly useless items and trash that causes clutter and impairment to basic living activities. Under state law and most standard rental agreements, a tenant is required to maintain the rental unit in a safe and good condition and not to allow it to fall into disrepair. Hoarding likely violates these obligations. The landlord, however, should be aware that hoarding may be a disability and that it is unlawful to discriminate against a tenant on the basis of any disability. In fact, if requested the landlord must provide the disabled tenant with a reasonable accommodation for the disability.

Determining what is a reasonable accommodation is very subjective and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some hoarding cases may require more immediate action. For instance the hoarding may result in serious fire and safety hazards, rodent and pest infestation, odor problems or other nuisances that affect not only the hoarding tenant, but other tenants as well. Upon discovering a hoarding problem, the landlord should promptly notify the tenant in writing and set a date within which the tenant must bring the rental unit into compliance with the rental agreement and applicable laws. Where the hoarding is simply an issue of cleanliness, then it may be reasonable to give more time to the tenant - perhaps 2 to 4 weeks or more. Where there are other health and safety issues involved, then it may be reasonable to give much less time - perhaps one week or less. Certain extreme cases may even warrant a legal 3-day notice to perform or quit. As the deadline approaches, the landlord should check to see whether the tenant has made progress in removing the clutter. If progress has been made, then it may be reasonable to give the tenant even more time to finish if requested. The landlord should put all communications to the tenant in writing to demonstrate the landlord's concern and reasonableness. Additionally, the landlord may consider sending a courtesy copy of these writings to the tenant's counselor or social worker.

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