Brandt Law Group Blog
HOARDING – MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES IN CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATIONS
Some of your neighbors may simply be obnoxious, while others may be mentally ill, such as hoarders or schizophrenics. Sometimes these mental health disorders are under enough control not to directly impact you or other neighbors. Other times, something must be done to prevent someone from being hurt or simply to allow you to get a decent night’s sleep.
Hoarding and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling. 1 Schizophrenia is a chronic condition, requiring lifelong treatment.
Hoarding disorder results in difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value then occurs. Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some sufferers also collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they can’t care for them properly. 2
The Brandt Law Group has assisted homeowners and board members in resolving several condominium association disputes where schizophrenics were disturbing other unit owners to such an extent that it had become a daily infringement on the unit owners’ rights to the peaceful enjoyment and use of their homes. I have also represented a hoarder who was incapable of maintaining his own unit to an extent that made the unit habitable.
1Mayo Clinic Website
2Mayo Clinic Website
Contact a Family Member
The first course of action when confronted with any type of mental health issues is to reach out to the person’s family members and/or guardians. These people are the most knowledgeable about the person’s condition and what actions can be taken to calm the situation. If there is a helpful family member, that person will be the most able to make some quick changes to the problematic behavior. However, sometimes the family members are not in the area or are not capable of assisting with their child’s, cousin’s, or parent’s dispute.
In one case, I represented a condominium association that was dealing with a schizophrenic unit occupant who was disturbing other residents at all hours of the day and night. The octogenarian parents of the adult schizophrenia sufferer were the owners of the unit, yet unable to provide meaningful assistance due to their own aging issues. Early attempts to obtain meaningful assistance from the elderly owners of the unit failed, as the owners were at a loss regarding how to care for their daughter and not personally healthy enough to take charge of the situation and resolve the problem. In that case, we needed to sue the owners to force them to deal with the problematic occupant of their unit. They ultimately moved their daughter out of the condominium. Social service agencies can sometimes assist with these situations, but the economics of government-funded outreach programs limits the ability of these agencies to proactively assist in many cases.
Contact an Agency
However, sometimes the participation of a helpful person from an agency can make the difference. In the case of a hoarder that I represented, he was the owner of his unit and had fallen. He was unable to get up for several days until the fire department assisted him in getting out of his unit and to the hospital, where he recovered from his fall for several weeks. The Fire Marshal who had first assisted our client was extremely helpful in retrieving some necessary items from the unit while our client was in the hospital. That same Fire Marshal coordinated access to the unit so we could have a professional cleaning company that dealt with the results of hoarding access the unit and clean it, including the removal of badly stained carpeting and furniture.
If you are the neighbor who has been awakened in the middle of the night for several days in a row, you should start by contacting the Association’s manager, if there is one, or the Association’s Board members and request that the excess noise/smell/lights, etc. be eradicated. Keep a log of the times of the disturbing behavior, the length of the episode, and the details of the occurrence. If you are the Board member, you have an obligation to enforce the Association’s governing documents, including the noise restrictions and anti-obnoxious behavior requirements. If the mentally ill occupant ceases to act out, that is great. If the person continues with their behavior, then fines and other remedial association tools should be utilized to pressure the person into adhering to the rules of the Association. If the person is still not complying with the Association’s requirements, then it becomes necessary to involve the family, friends, agencies, and/or doctors to assist with the situation.
Seek Legal Council
These situations are not easy; patience and compassion are highly recommended. Most often, these mentally ill unit occupants do not fully understand the impact that they are having on the people around them. Sometimes, presented with these facts, the schizophrenic person may feel additionally threatened. Seeking assistance from the person’s family and professionals is the swiftest option to bring an end to the disturbances from these troubled individuals. If after you have exhausted these options to remedy the aberrant behavior, you and or the other unit occupants are within your rights and, in some cases, obligation to seek legal counsel. Each unit owner and/or their unit occupants are entitled to peaceful use and enjoyment of their residence and common areas. It is not a matter that can be ignored. Mental illness is real and presents genuine issues for condominium associations, as well as the general public.