January 17, 2019

The Hoarder Next Door – The New York Times

The Hoarder Next Door – The New York Times


Q: A rent-stabilized tenant in my co-op building is a hoarder. My apartment is near hers and now, for the first time in 15 years, I have mice and roaches. The board said that the sponsor of the hoarder’s apartment isn’t doing what he should, but if I report the situation to the health department, the building will just get more fines. The mice freak out my wife, the roaches freak me out, and the exterminator says the hoarder is the source of our problems. What can and should we do?

A: You and your wife are entitled to live in a sanitary home not overrun with pests. An apartment packed with belongings could pose health and safety hazards for the tenant, the co-op and you. If your neighbor’s hygiene creates a fire hazard or causes foul odors, leaks or vermin infestations, she may be in violation of her lease and could potentially face eviction.

Hoarding is a mental disorder, one that often progresses or worsens with time, which might explain why you’re only seeing the mice and roaches now. Because this is a mental-health problem, any solution will include a measure of patience and compassion.

“There are city agencies that could be called. There are social services agencies. Sometimes when you employ multiple different remedies at once, all of those things would put pressure on the party to clean up their act,” said Barry G. Margolis, a litigator in the Manhattan office of the law firm Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson. “It’s not a helpless or hopeless situation.”

In your case, the co-op board does not have a direct relationship with the hoarder. Instead, the hoarder’s lease is with her landlord, who is a shareholder in the co-op and must comply with the co-op’s rules. The landlord could ultimately take his tenant to housing court if she’s in violation of her lease. But there are less adversarial steps he should take first, like enlisting family members or nonprofit organizations like the Educational Alliance to help.



Whatever the course of action, it will only happen if the co-op compels the landlord to do his job. Write letters to the co-op board and the managing agent, providing as much detail as you can about odors and evidence of vermin between the units. The current conditions may violate your warranty of habitability, a state rule. Remind the co-op board of that and urge it to use whatever leverage it has over the landlord to force him to act.

As frustrated as you are, calling 311 to report the condition may not get you very far. You’ll antagonize the building, and a violation from the Health Department won’t fix the problem. Instead, contact support agencies like Adult Protective Services, which could appoint a guardian, if it comes to that. If you see any friends or family visiting, ask to speak with them about whether they would be willing to help.

You may also consider sending the landlord a letter from a lawyer pointing out that you could sue for creating a private nuisance, which could help bring this issue to a head.

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