The Condominium’s Duty Regarding Hoarding (Part 1)

We have probably all seen an episode of, or at least a commercial for, one of the various hoarding shows on television these days. The shows depict a person or family living in unimaginable conditions with piles of goods, garbage, and who knows what else. I have even heard of an episode where several of the hoarder’s cats were missing in the home. The cats were found dead among the debris.

In Ontario, hoarding became a hot topic after a fire in a Toronto apartment caused the evacuation of over 1000 people, injured several, and caused millions of dollars in damage. The unit was occupied by a hoarder and all it took was a single cigarette being tossed on the balcony, which was full of combustible material, to start the fire. During the clean-up they found several other units in the same building with hoarders.

Even academics and those in the medical profession have been a buzz about hoarding these past few years. Hoarding disorder was even included within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. According to the American Psychiatric Association, studies show that an estimated two to five percent of the population has hoarding disorder.

What is hoarding? The DSM-5 characterizes hoarding disorder as someone with “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.” I have seen people hold on to all kinds of things that I would characterize as garbage – old newspapers, cardboard, cans, plastic bags, food containers, and even used diapers! Sometimes they appeared to have hoarding disorder, but sometimes they simply could not keep the unit tidy for other reasons (i.e. a prolonged illness or extended time away from the unit).

The fact is hoarders are in condominiums and directors and property managers need to be aware of the options for addressing the situation.

Why should a condominium care about a hoarding situation in a unit?

You need a reason beyond the increased risk of fire, property damage, injury and death? I’ll give you five:

1) The board of directors has a duty to manage the property and assets of the condominium and ensure that the owners and occupants are complying with the Act and the condominium’s declaration, by-laws and rules (see section 17 of the Act).

2) The Condominium Act, 1998 prohibits any condition or activity in a unit that is likely to damage the property or cause injury to an individual (see section 117).

3) The owner almost always (you’ll need to check your declaration) has a duty to maintain his or her unit. If the owner fails to do so, and there is a potential risk of damage to the property or assets of the condominium or personal injury, the condominium may do the work necessary to maintain the unit and charge the costs back to the owner (see section 92).

4) The condominium may be liable for property damage and personal injuries or death if a fire occurs and the board and/or property manager was aware of the hoarding in the unit (based on the Act, other legislation (i.e. Fire Protection and Prevention Act), case law, and general principles of negligence).

5) Directors may be personally liable in some instances.

When should a condominium take action against a hoarding situation? The most obvious causes for concern are: increased complaints about odour or unsightliness; an inability of contractors to perform repair or maintenance work in the unit or to the adjacent common elements; and the inability to safely move in and out of the unit.

Next post I’ll discuss the options for addressing a hoarding situation in your condominium. Stay tuned!