What to do about a hoarder tenant who is also a good long-time family friend is the question this week for Ask Landlord Hank. Remember Hank is not an attorney and he is not offering legal advice. If you have a question for him please fill out the form below.
Dear Landlord Hank:
We rent out a house next to us to a lifelong friend of my husband’s. She used to babysit him when he was little. She is now in her 60s, with very poor physical and mental health. She is a hoarder and as her physical health has deteriorated, this problem has become out of control and unhealthy for her.
My husband has gone in with her permission several times and cleaned up the place. Within two weeks it is always a mess again. There is literally just a path through from the front door to a chair she lives and sleeps in. She can no longer reach a bedroom or the bathroom. She wears adult diapers and cleans herself up afterward, but is now getting too weak to even do that very well. It takes her an hour.
She also has a dog and a cat, which just use a back room of the house to go to the bathroom because she can no longer take care of their needs either. There is no family willing to help. We have repeatedly tried to talk her into assisted living, which she shoots down immediately.
At this point, she really needs nursing home care. She refuses to go to the hospital and insists she wants to stay here and that she is fine.
At what point do we override her free will and take legal action to get her help? We are concerned for her, of course, but are also worried we could be held responsible for her unsanitary living conditions. We have tried to help. She just won’t let us.
But her health is so poor, we could be calling an ambulance for her someday soon. At that point, the state of her living conditions would no doubt be reported to somebody. Could that come back on us in the form of criminal charges or something similar? If we take action to get her out into assisted living or whatever she needs, she will see it as the ultimate betrayal. She thinks that families that allow a loved one to go into a nursing home are just terrible people.
Some thoughts or insight into our level of responsibility? We live in Ohio. Thanks so much for your time. –Crystal
Dear Landlady Crystal,
This is a very tough situation to be in, as your tenant is far more than a tenant.
It seems like you consider her “family” and she has the same feelings. I’m not able to diagnose this person but from your description of the situation it appears that this tenant may be battling a hoarder disorder, which has been officially designated as a subtype of obsessive/compulsive disorder.
This disorder is also considered a disability by the American Psychiatric Association, meaning that she would also be protected by the Fair Housing Act. She would be protected on many levels, and I know eviction is not any part of the plan – nor should it be. Since she is failing both physically and mentally and has basically created a toxic environment, this is no longer a safe place for her to be.
You may have to be the mother figure here and tell her that since she can no longer take care of herself properly you are very concerned about her continued well-being and she is going to need more care than she is getting and a clean, safe environment in which to live. This is not up for discussion, and she can either be a part of the decision or she can fight you, in which case she’ll have less say so in where she moves from your place.
I would talk to your local social services and health department and ask for help. You could also visit some assisted living communities for advice and availability. I would first contact a local Ohio attorney dealing in landlord-tenant law and ask for advice. This is not going to be an easy battle since she is in denial about her health and the need for more care. I know you care for her very much and hopefully she will come to see that you only have her best interests at heart.
Each week I answer questions from landlords and property managers across the country in my “Dear Landlord Hank” blog in the digital magazine Rental Housing Journal. https://rentalhousingjournal.com/asklandlordhank/
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