Special Report

Is “Hoarding” a Criminal Offense?

July 21, 2023 by Madison Ferguson in Special Report  
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A hoarder hoarding in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

What is Hoarding?

Before delving into the legal aspects pertaining to hoarding, it is imperative to possess a fundamental comprehension of the actual condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, hoarding represents a mental health disorder that is clinically defined. Several symptoms can be observed in individuals who are affected by hoarding disorder:

  • The unrestrained acquisition and accumulation of possessions, even those that are unnecessary, have no inherent value, and for which adequate storage space is unavailable,
  • Continual incapacity to let go of or discard possessions (regardless of their practical worth or usefulness)
  • Feeling an intense desire to preserve and uphold these possessions.
  • Experiencing profound distress or intense emotions when considering parting ways with these possessions.
  • The accumulation of debris to the extent that a dwelling becomes non-functional, hazardous, unhygienic, and inhabitable.
  • The general inclination towards evasion, hesitation, meticulousness, and delaying
  • Difficulties pertaining to organization and planning.

Is Hoarding Illegal?

In California, hoarding is not considered illegal, so if you’re worried about a hoarder, you might question whether hoarding is against the law. Depending on the details of a hoarding situation, it can lead to breaking state statutes and local ordinances.

When hoarding continues for a while, it can eventually reach a stage where it meets the legal definition of a public nuisance according to state laws and local regulations. Failure to address and resolve a public nuisance can lead to criminal charges under the laws of California. State laws specify the circumstances where a person can face criminal charges for hoarding.

  • Engage in, establish, or undertake actions that cause a disturbance in public.
  • They intentionally neglect to fulfill the legal obligations of removing or resolving a public nuisance.
  • Allow a public nuisance to persist on one’s property.

In California, the person who creates a hoard may face criminal liability for causing a public nuisance, and someone else might also be held responsible. A property owner or landlord in a rental situation may be at risk of facing criminal charges for public nuisance due to actions or lack of action by a tenant who hoards.

Public nuisance regulations in Los Angeles are comparable to those in the majority of cities in Southern California. The Los Angeles ordinance provisions demonstrate how hoarding can be considered a public nuisance.

Municipal ordinances typically establish a “public nuisance” encompassing various disruptive activities or conditions.

  • Harmful to health or deemed inappropriate or offensive to the senses.
  • Stops or hinders the unrestricted utilization of property
  • Disrupts the peaceful and satisfactory experience of life or possession of property for a large community, a specific neighborhood, or a significant number of people.

If someone is accused of causing or upkeeping a public nuisance according to state or local regulations, they could potentially be found guilty of a misdemeanor. A person convicted of maintaining a nuisance can face imprisonment or a high chance of being fined.
First-time offenders charged with nuisance because of hoarding are unlikely to be imprisoned. A person who hoards and is being prosecuted for causing a disturbance to the public is more likely to be given a specific timeframe to remove the hoard and the disturbance it causes. A judge will probably require individuals accused of causing or keeping a disturbance due to hoarding to obtain professional help, including from mental health professionals.

Hoarders who repeatedly cause disturbances are more likely to face stricter penalties. Furthermore, individuals who are found to be responsible for causing or sustaining a nuisance, and have been accumulating a large number of pets or animals, are highly susceptible to being charged with acts of animal cruelty or abuse.

How to Deal With a Hoarding Tenant

Landlords often face difficulties when dealing with tenants who hoard. Hoarding can lead to property damage and create health and safety hazards. Properly handling the situation is crucial since hoarding is acknowledged as a mental disability, and landlords must provide reasonable adjustments. The lease could be terminated if the tenant’s actions lead to additional issues or violations of the agreement. Keeping thorough records, including property conditions and tenant interactions, is essential to prevent potential legal complications. Landlords should make an effort to assist tenants by providing counseling or cleaning services. Sending a notice to remedy the situation or vacate may become essential if the issue continues to endanger fellow tenants. It is advisable to pursue legal advice from an attorney when facing the possibility of eviction to manage the legal procedure effectively.

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