Improved legislation is needed to help landlords as well as the broader community deal with the issue of pathological hoarders.
Leasing to a tenant who hoards to pathological extremes is a nightmare scenario that every property owner hopes to avoid.
Compulsive hoarding can result in major problems for properties, creating squalor and filth that attracts various forms of vermin, as well as heightened fire hazards.
These problems do not end with the departure of the tenants themselves, with associated cleaning and removal costs often the most expensive aspect of dealing with hoarders.
This is best evidenced by the case of a notorious family of hoarders who have been accumulating rubbish at their bungalow on Boonara Avenue in Bondi over the past decade.
The Waverley Council has been compelled to clean the property on four occasions since 2005, at a cost of roughly $350,000 in cleaning and legal fees.
While the Boonara Avenue case is the type of extreme example beloved by the tabloid press, according to a report released in September by the Catholic Community Service, hoarding is a growing problem in Australia that incurs immense costs.
Mercy Splitt, Catholic Community Serices NSW/ACT (CCS) Hoarding and Squalor manager, said hoarding and squalor is expected to cost Australia $1.8 billion with bare minimal intervention. Expenses could spiral to as much as 20 times that amount in the absence of more effective or timely solutions.
Data from a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics estimates that as much as 2.6 per cent of the Australian population, or over 600,000 people, may suffer from a hoarding disorder – a figure high enough to make a leasing to a tenant suffering from the illness a real possibility.
CCS further estimates that around 12 per cent of the clients it assists throughout the NSW area live in private rental accommodation.
Unfortunately, is it difficult for landlords to evict a tenant for hoarding, as no laws exist against simply owning a surfeit of possessions, and the issue itself continues to remain an area of legal ambiguity in Australia.
CSS has called for a more concerted government response to the issue of hoarding in NSW in order to better protect directly affected individuals as well as the broader community. This includes legislative action to clarify areas of legal uncertainty for parties affected.
“As hoarding and squalor is a multi-agency issue, CCS believes that a single government department should be assigned responsibility for the overarching framework of developing effective system responses,” said Splitt. “Legislative change may be effective in bringing about increased access to service providers, as neither hoarding nor squalor is clearly defined under legislation designed to protect public health.”