April 09, 2019
Property Inspections for Animal Hoarding Tenants
It seems there isn’t a week that goes by that you don’t hear about large amounts of neglected animals rescued by animal welfare workers. Sadly, these workers find animals in distress in abominable conditions as well as, all too often, deceased animals. It’s a serious problem that is difficult for everyone involved: the tenant, the landlord, the animal welfare workers and the community.
Hoarding, in general, is a psychological condition that’s recognized as a distinct mental illness. Although it’s been compared to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the difference is that OCD patients are usually aware of their own condition whereas hoarders are not, making it difficult for them to seek treatment. Animal hoarding occurs when a person compulsively accumulates a large number of animals (dogs, cats, birds, rodents and even farm animals) without the ability to properly house and care for them.
Hoarders love their animals are not intentionally cruel, and may think of themselves as saving the animals from shelter life. However, often there is a disconnect between the strong emotional attachment the hoarder feels for their animals and the reality that these collected animals are usually found malnourished and suffering in an unsanitary environment. Denial is part of a strategy that many animal hoarders use in order to be able to function and often live with their animals in horrific conditions. A multifaceted and intricate problem, animal hoarding has far-reaching effects that encompass mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns.
The Dangers of Animal Hoarding
A review of case studies of hoarders from across Canada and the United States showed that in most cases essential utilities and major appliances such as showers, heaters, stoves, toilets, and sinks were not functional. Other statistics include:
- 93% of hoarder’s home interiors were usually unsanitary
- 70% had fire hazards
- 16% of residences are subsequently condemned as unfit for human habitation
And, unfortunately, simply removing the animals isn’t a cure. Frequently the hoarder will begin again.
What Landlords Can Do
While you will need to check with your provincial and local laws, in general hoarding by itself is not grounds for eviction. For example, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, all tenants have the right to equal treatment with respect to the occupancy of accommodation, without discrimination because of disability. As hoarding is a clinically diagnosed psychological disability, the landlord must work with the tenant to try to resolve the problem. However, if the animal hoarding is causing a threat to public health or a safety hazard there may be grounds for eviction.
Start with Compassion
Understand that this is a compulsive disorder. It’s important to approach these situations with sensitivity, diplomacy and open communication.
Conduct Regular Inspections
Regular property and tenant inspections will help you to be aware of the conditions within your unit so that you can take action sooner rather than later.
When discovering an animal hoarding situation, a landlord’s first step should be to tactfully communicate the concerns regarding any health or safety to the tenant.
Keep a record of all communication between you and your tenant. Take photos of the property and any conditions that may endanger the health and safety of your tenants.
Offer to find the hoarder mental health and any other community resources that may help them.
Coordinate the Effort
Navigating the rights and powers of inter-governmental agencies, and knowing which to call at what time in the process can be challenging for property managers, particularly in large municipal areas. So, speak with city inspectors, the local animal welfare organization, fire department, public health and your provincial body that oversees landlord-tenant relations to determine the best approach.
Talk to a Lawyer
Be sure to speak with a lawyer to get proper legal counsel if the condition of the property does not improve.
Give the animal hoarding tenant notice and give them the chance to remedy the situation. If the tenant refuses entry to a lawful inspection, you may wish to start the lease termination process. Often you can apply for an emergency hearing at your rental board to gain access or lawfully start the eviction process.
Proceed with an eviction if necessary.
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