C.V. from New Haven County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
The next door neighbor ended up having to leave her condo and go into assisted living 2 years gone now. A month ago, a horrible order was coming through my walls in upstairs rooms. The manger was finally able to get into the neighbor’s condo and found that the refrigerator had stopped working. All food in there (2 year old food!) had rotted and built up gasses. They had to wear masks just to try and get the mess out of there! There were maggots, flies, etc… While they were in there, they saw the previous unit owner was a hoarder and had collected all kinds of trash. We used fans and painted our closets against the wall that attached to her condo to try and put a sealer between us. Finally, the smell is gone but she has not done one thing to have anyone clean out her condo. She did tell the manager she was not coming back and, as far as I know, she does pay her condo fees. The manger did tell her that he would need to winterize her unit and shut off the water due to the dangers of other things going back like her water heater plus she has trash in there and papers up against the heat registers. My question is what legal recourse do we have in case yet another thing happens? I have reached out to the condo manager in writing my fears and concerns of fire and water damage so we will see what they think. Not sure what can be legally done if she refuses to clean it out. For sure, she cannot sell it as it is with the rot in there. When the bylaws were made 25 years ago the word hoarder was not even around but for sure now it needs to be in the bylaws I would think.
Mister Condo replies:
C.V., your question is one that I feel is not asked often enough in community associations here and around the country. There are lots of dangerous activities that can go on inside of condominium units that put not only the unit resident in harm’s way but also the rest of the association and, in particular, the immediately adjoining units. I am truly sorry for the mess you now find yourself having to deal with. I have written two previous Ask Mister Condo column answers about issues with Hoarders and I encourage you to review those articles for more advice. You can read them at https://askmistercondo.com/board/aluminum-wiring-at-condo-unit-of-a-hoarder/ and https://askmistercondo.com/board/hoarding-leads-to-mouse-infestation-at-condo/.
Basically, taking action requires strong resolve by the Board and the guidance of a qualified attorney who is likely going to seek a court order allowing entry into the unit for the purpose of safety. Hoarding, as such, is often not addressed in association governing documents. However, access to unit for safety purposes often is allowed provided adequate notice is served. Boards can generally take action against unit owners who create an unsafe environment within their unit. Hoarding can usually be demonstrated to create a fire hazard and/or a general health and safety concern. The Board may be able to order the unit cleared of debris to create a safe environment for all unit owners.
My advice is twofold. First, work with the Board to see what actions they are willing to take. Understand that this type of thing takes time. The Board cannot simply enter the unit; they will need good reason and, perhaps, a court order. They will also have to hire a junk removal company with hoarding removal experience. It is not unusual for the livable space to be more than 50% full of debris so dumpsters and more are often needed. At the same time, I would reach out to a local attorney to see what rights you have. You may be able to sue the neighbor for damage to your unit. You may even have a suit against your association for not dealing with the problem. An attorney can best advise you of how to protect yourself in this situation.
I wish you a safe and speedy return to normalcy. Thank you for sharing your story. All the best!