In the landlord-tenant relationship, both parties have duties and responsibilities owed to each other when it comes to upkeep of the property. While a landlord is required to maintain a rental that’s suitable for tenants to live in, tenants must also fulfill their duties and ensure that they take care of the unit properly while in possession during the rental term.
No law prohibits a tenant from living in a messy apartment. But when the state of the tenant’s unit goes beyond clutter and disorganization, it creates a hazard for others and thus, in violation of the lease and California law.
Specifically, California Civil Code § 1941.2 lists the following “affirmative obligations” imposed on tenants when renting the landlord’s property:
(1) Keeping the unit in a clean and sanitary condition;
(2) Properly disposing of all rubbish, garbage, and other waste, in a clean and sanitary manner.
(3) Properly operating and maintaining all electrical, gas and plumbing fixtures;
(4) Not permitting any person on the premise to destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the rented property.
Many landlords choose to avoid tenant hoarding issues in hopes that the conflict will somehow go away. But the problem almost never resolves itself. Here’s what you need to do when faced with a hoarding situation on your property.
Communication Is Key
Promptly after identifying the hoarding behavior, landlords should inform the tenant of their statutory (and many times contractual) obligation to keep the unit clean, sanitary, and free from hazardous clutter. The property owner should take proactive steps to address the behavior, doing everything reasonably possible. Identify the most pressing issues and try to convince the tenant to take proper care of them first. Discuss strategies to reduce fire hazards, eliminate rodents, clear blocked passages and remedy any other dangerous issues posing a risk to the health and the safety of the hoarder and other residents.
Keep Thorough Documentation
When hoarding behavior is discovered, documentation is critical – the more photos, videos, or notes, the better your case will be if litigation becomes necessary.
Consider Evicting The Tenant
When the hoarding continues despite these steps your remedy is to proceed with an eviction. The case would be based on the tenant’s breach of a term in the lease, or a nuisance theory. It could also be based on the tenant causing direct damage to the property and safety violations because emergency exits are blocked, or unsafe materials are being stored inappropriately. The lawsuit would be focused strictly on the actions you have taken to help the hoarder and the various code violations that necessitate eviction.
You’ll want to use all of the documentation you’ve compiled to date to show the court that you’ve tried everything possible to accommodate the resident before the eviction became necessary. Since state law and local ordinances can place a legal burden on a landlord to address the conduct of a hoarding tenant, a landlord best protects his or her legal interests by showing the court he or she has been proactive in attempting to rectify the situation.
With hoarding now officially considered a mental disorder, landlords and property managers must handle hoarding issues with sensitivity and extra caution. The focus should be on the legitimate health and safety concerns the hoarding is causing, and how to resolve those concerns in a mutually acceptable manner.
As eviction specialists, Lynx Legal Service has extensive experience dealing with hoarders. Feel free to contact us with any questions regarding the above or if you need to start an eviction case. We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.