Common Issues

June, 22 2023 Published by Grand River Chapter - By Jennifer Watson

Hoarding – When Clutter Becomes a Hazard

We have all experienced being disorganized and having large collections or too much clutter around. When does clutter move from just an unorganized mess to a safety hazard and a liability? At some point it becomes more than an unpleasing sight and turns into a hoarding situation that impacts individuals living in it and those around it.

We have all experienced being disorganized and having large collections or too much clutter around. When does clutter move from just an unorganized mess to a safety hazard and a liability? At some point it becomes more than an unpleasing sight and turns into a hoarding situation that impacts individuals living in it and those around it.

What is hoarding? It is important to understand that hoarding is recognized as a medical disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5), a hoarding disorder is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding and parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value, to the point that it causes harmful effects for the person or those around the person. In condominiums, this can present serious health and safety concerns of the residents and may cause damage to the common elements of the corporation. Not only is a hoarding situation aestheticall displeasing to other residents of a complex, it can potentially cause pest issues, unpleasant odours and living conditions, mould infestation, and in some cases become severe enough that it may lead to fires and flooding. Hoarding may also present a higher risk for a condominium when seeking insurance.

One of the duties of the board of directors of a condominium is to ensure owners are complying with the Condominium Act, 1998 and the governing documents of the condominium. Section 117 of the Condominium Act, 1998 prohibits any condition or activity in a unit that is likely to damage property or cause injury. So, with this information, how does a board assess a situation of hoarding and how do they move forward in taking action towards the situation? The hoarder usually will extend their hoarding outside the premises of the unit itself into spaces like balconies or exclusive use areas, so visual signs may be present. Often neighbouring residents will notice strong odours emanating from the unit or may see an increase in pest infestation. The owner that is hoarding may also delay or provide excuses for access to their unit. If these things are present the unit owner may have a hoarding disorder and the condominium corporation has a responsibility to ensure that the hoarding doesn’t become a health and safety issue and a liability to the residents and corporation. In addition to this, the board also has the responsibility to ensure the proper care and maintenance of the common elements in the condominium corporation are completed.

When a hoarding situation is identified, before a board takes action, it is important to remember this is a recognized disability and the condominium is obligated to reasonably act and accommodate the owner in compliance with the Ontario Human Rights Code. Often an individual that is hoarding may not consider themselves as a hoarder or may be extremely embarrassed. What you may see as junk, they will not. As it is a sensitive issue, consideration on how to approach the issue should not be taken lightly as it may present a high risk of safety for not only the hoarder but the whole corporation. Therefore, it may be prudent for the board to consult legal advice.

As per section 19 of the Condominium Act, 1998, the corporation or its agents may, upon reasonable notice, enter a unit. If hoarding is suspected the board may want to look at having a site visit completed to assess the complexity of the issue. Once an issue is identified, it is recommended that all individuals involved work together in a effort to avoid a confrontational approach. One way we can do this is to be sensitive to the language we use. An individual that is hoarding may be in denial, extremely embarrassed, and defensive, and as a result you may want to choose language like belongings, personal items, collections oppose to using terms like junk, mess, waste or trash. In addition, creating a reasonable plan with a realistic time line may also allow the individual that is hoarding to feel a greater sense of control.

Offering a list of your local agencies or associations that assist in hoarding may be helpful. Due to a high risk of safety and fire concerns one can start by asking your local fire department resources.

When the owner that is hoarding is unresponsive or not cooperative, then the board may want to consult legal advice on how to proceed as a legal order may need to be acquired to enforce the clean up of the hoarding to ensure the safety of all residents and maintain the common elements of the corporation.

It is important to keep in mind that whether the hoarder is cooperative or the corporation finds itself in a legal enforcement issue, hoarding is a mental disorder. Even if the unit or area is cleaned up and resolved there will need to be ongoing monitoring, as it is quite common for the individual to start hoarding again.

Hoarding, especially in shared living complexes, is a serious issue that can’t be taken lightly. It directly impacts all the residents and owners in their quality of living, their health and safety, the maintenance and insurance of their shared assets. There is not a quick fix or a one size fits all when addressing hoarding. As owners and board members of a condominium, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings, to educate yourself of the risks hoarding presents, and your responsibility is to ensure that steps are taken to provide a safe environment for all residents within your condominium corporation.


Jennifer Watson
Accounting Manager
Weigel Property Management

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