Being a landlord comes with its fair share of challenges, especially when it comes to finding the right tenants. Even if you do your due diligence in checking them out beforehand, you don’t always truly know what they’re like until they move in. At least, this was my experience when I discovered my tenant was a hoarder.
Discovering a tenant’s hoarding problem
I first found out my tenant was a hoarder during a routine inspection. Up until that point I had encountered other tenants whose living environments were a bit cluttered, but it’s never really been a problem for me.
It’s fair to say that I wasn’t prepared for what I found. When I walked into the property it was impossible not to notice the piles and piles of stuff everywhere. Boxes stacked from floor to ceiling, the furniture buried by old magazines, newspapers, seemingly broken electrical items, and clothes.
It was very overwhelming. I know we all have different ideas of what makes a place clean and tidy, but this was beyond anything I’d ever imagined. My first thought was: how on earth am I going to deal with this?
I didn’t raise the hoarding problem with the tenant straight away. Even with my limited experience I already knew hoarding behaviours like that could be an indicator of vulnerability and deteriorating mental health. So, I decided to go away and do some research first to better understand the problem. Here’s what I found:
What is hoarding?
Hoarding is when a person has so many things that the clutter becomes difficult or impossible. It’s a mental health disorder that can show itself through the person having a strong need to acquire more items or having difficulty getting rid of stuff because of emotional attachment.
Why might a person hoard?
Hoarding is driven by a strong emotional connection to belongings or beliefs that make it hard to throw stuff away. For example, someone with hoarding tendencies might genuinely believe they need to keep items “just in case” or worry about the emotional impact i getting rid of items.
From my research, I found there are many beliefs someone might have that lead to hoarding behaviour. However, all of them make it difficult for the person to organise their belongings and get rid of things they don’t need anymore.
Assessing the situation
My research helped me to understand that the condition of the property was down to my tenant’s mental health. This made me sympathetic to their situation and, as such, I wanted to get a clear understanding of what action I could take to help them and make sure my rental property didn’t become unsafe.
In my previous inspection, I was so unprepared for the state of the property that I wasn’t able to take it all in. So, I decided to visit the property again, giving my tenant the appropriate amount of notice.
This time, I entered the property fully prepared for the situation and armed with an objective eye. My primary goal was to understand how severe the hoarding was, and whether the type of items being piled up could cause an immediate risk to the tenant’s health and safety. With this in mind, I took special care to look out for:
Mildew and fungus;
Problems with plumbing.
During the inspection, I took lots of pictures as I knew that these may be needed as visual evidence later on.
Getting legal advice about a hoarding tenant
After a second inspection of the property, it was clear to me that the problem was severe. However, I was still unsure how I should move forward. As mentioned, I realised the hoarding was a reflection of my tenant’s vulnerability and mental health problems, and I wanted to make sure I could protect my property while supporting them as far as possible.
For this reason, I decided to get in touch with a landlord solicitor from Lawhive for advice on my options, which included:
Working with the tenant to help them clean up the property;
Getting in touch with Environmental Health;
Ending the tenancy early by eviction (Section 8);
Ending the tenancy at the end of the fixed term.
Hoarding and the law
Hoarding can be seen as anti-social behaviour under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. This is because it involves actions that can cause housing-related problems or annoy others. For example, it has the potential to lead to unhygienic conditions, attract pests, increase the risk of fire, and also create safety issues during emergencies or get in the way of being able to carry out essential repairs.
Evicting a hoarder
The idea of evicting a tenant just because of hoarding seemed extreme. But, having seen the extent of the problem myself, I was aware it may come to be the only viable option in such a difficult situation.
My landlord and tenant solicitor advised me that I may be able to serve a Section 8 notice to the tenant because they had:
Caused damage to the property through neglect.
However, my solicitor also advised that evicting a tenant for hoarding during the tenancy might prove challenging unless I could concretely show signs of damage or safety issues.
Hoarding and the Equality Act
Following my research, I was all too aware of how misunderstood hoarding was. I knew that people who struggled with it often faced criticism from those around them, and I didn’t want to be another person dragging my tenant down.
During discussions with my solicitor, we also looked at how the Equality Act 2010 may provide a valid defence against eviction for hoarding.
Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially affects their ability to carry out day-to-day activities in the long term. The Act also says that a person can’t be treated unfavourably because of something arising from their disability unless it’s a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
As a landlord, this meant I might not be able to evict my tenant because of their hoarding as their hoarding disorder could be classed as a disability.
Another consideration relating to this, which was brought to my attention by my solicitor, was the tenant’s ability to make decisions. While having a mental illness doesn’t automatically mean a person can't make their own decisions, it was something I should think about, especially because the court was not likely to issue certain actions (such as a possession order) if there’s clear evidence that a person can’t comply with its terms if they are unable to understand, remember, assess information, and communicate decisions.
How I dealt with my hoarding tenant
Tenants have a responsibility to maintain property cleanliness and avoid anti-social behaviour, however, hoarding presents a unique challenge as normal routes, like asking them to clean up, might prove ineffective without specialist support and treatment.
Having said that, it seemed worth trying to encourage the tenant to follow the rules of their tenancy agreement and remind them that neglecting the property could be considered a breach. Therefore, my first action was to have a conversation with the tenant and raise my concerns with them. While the clutter was extensive, I had identified no evidence of pests or unsanitary living conditions. The only immediate risk was a fire risk posed by the mountains of old magazines and newspapers which lay all over the property.
As we suspected, this action was not effective. While the tenant claimed they had taken steps to start tidying the place off, further inspections showed little evidence of any improvement. Therefore, I decided with the help of my solicitor to seek an injunction to address the breach of the tenancy and instruct the tenant to work with me and any other support services to address the underlying issues causing the hoarding and help with the cleanup.
Happily, this route proved more successful and the tenant began to engage with social services and other support available to them. We were also able to conduct an extensive clean-up of the property, restoring it to its original state.
Looking to the future
Having had to deal with a hoarding tenant, I am more aware of the issue now. As a result, I regularly visit all properties for inspections and keep an eye out for hoarding behaviour.
For the tenant to whom this article relates, I keep a log of my visits so I can quickly spot if their hoarding problem is rearing its head again. I’m pleased to say that, with regular external support, things haven’t even gotten close to how bad they were on that first inspection!
In dealing with this issue, it was really important for me to consider the tenant’s needs along with my own and that of the neighbours. While I was shocked at what had happened to my property, my goal was not to punish the tenant, who was having a hard time, but to nip the problem in the bud and prevent further problems. Especially considering that, aside from the hoarding, they were a pleasant, reliable tenant.
Therefore, I am pleased we did not have to go through the eviction process to solve this particular problem. However, I can see how, after exhausting many avenues and in locations where support services are stretched or even non-existent, the legal eviction process may be the only option available to landlords to protect their property.
How can Lawhive help with a hoarding tenant?
At Lawhive, our landlord and tenant solicitors can help landlords with their rights and responsibilities ranging from how to deal with a breach of tenancy to eviction.
For more information and personalised information based on your situation, get in touch with our legal assessment team. Our network of solicitors works online for fixed fees, helping you to take action efficiently and affordably, whatever the situation.
This article was written in collaboration with our legal assessment team and client, who wishes to remain anonymous for this article. Some details have been changed or removed to protect the identity of those involved. For further advice relating to dealing with a hoarding tenant, please get in touch with our legal assessment team.