Support Services for Seniors Who Hoard

Compulsive cluttering, or hoarding, is defined as the unnecessary retention of objects or animals that may subject the hoarder and others to safety and health hazards. Perhaps because many symptoms of hoarding intensify over time, they seem to be more common in seniors than in younger adults.

Those who hoard often leave rooms filled with piles of papers, dirty dishes, moldy foods, animal droppings, and flammable chemical materials. As a result, access to windows, doors, water faucets, or standard household appliances may be hindered. Besides threatening the habitability of their own apartment units, hoarders may expose neighboring tenants to insect and rodent infestations, foul smells and possible fires.

In determining how to respond to a tenant who hoards, most landlords look to eviction as the true legal remedy. Should this occur, a tenant’s best response would be to quickly clean up.  This would include :

  • Removing or reorganizing flammable materials so as to minimize the risk of fire
  • Properly disposing of garbage and rubbish
  • Clearing hallways, doors and access to windows, and
  • Ensuring that all exits are accessible in the event of fire or other emergencies.

Unfortunately, although this might enable a tenant to ward off immediate eviction, it usually provides only short-term relief.

Current researchers recognize compulsive hoarding activities as evidencing a need for mental health support. Issues of anxiety, depression, and memory loss are often involved. Psychologists are likely to note the existence of hoarding when the following three characteristics appear:

  • The failure to discard a large number of useless possessions
  • Severe cluttering that renders spaces unavailable for their purpose, and
  • Resulting distress to the hoarder and others.

In addition to receiving psychological support, most tenants who hoard need assistance in identifying necessary items, sorting out those that are of value, and properly disposing of the rest.

Because such tenants need both immediate and long-term help, community and social service agencies throughout California are attempting to establish a network of available legal, mental health and social service providers who will work as a team to provide senior and other hoarders with effective support.

For referrals to free or low-cost legal service organizations, mental health agencies, and self-help support groups near you, contact H.E.L.P. at 310-533-1996.