By: Harris B. Katz. Esq. Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
Q: I am a member of my condominium board and it has come to the board’s attention that one of the residents may be hoarding. Some of the resident’s neighbors have voiced concerns about her behavior in regard to what they have seen in her unit and we are not sure what our ability is as a board. Can you provide some guidance as to what we can do before it gets out of hand?
M.S., Boca Raton
A: Hoarding is a problem that has really come to the forefront of people’s thoughts over the past several years, due in large part to the numerous reality shows that populate our cable networks. While these shows can be fascinating to watch, they reflect a real problem that impacts millions of families in this country. As with anything else, there is a wide range of severity when talking about hoarders. Some individuals will hoard animals or newspapers or old boxes or even food. Depending on what is going on in a particular situation, it is possible that there could be a danger to health and safety, especially in a building. The problem is that hoarding is a mental illness and needs to be addressed as such. As a result, board members must be extremely sensitive and discrete when handling these types of issues because handling them incorrectly could expose the association and the individual board members to liability.
Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, pursuing legal action is rarely the recommended first step. As I am sure you are aware, most associations have restrictions in the governing documents that prohibit owners from creating nuisances. The rules help to keep their units in a safe and clean condition. However, although it would seem like these provisions give an association the authority to enter a unit to investigate a potential problem of this type, we would warrant against taking such action without the owner’s consent. Entering units under false pretenses, even to investigate reports of hoarding, could lead to legal exposure.
Due to the numerous and legal implications involved here, we recommend that you immediately contact the association’s attorneys and consult with them regarding the issue. The biggest problem is that a hoarder will likely not view what he or she is doing as a problem and probably will not understand how it affects their neighbors or puts them in violation of the rules. Having your legal counsel handle the matter will help shield the association from potential exposure in what is going to be a very delicate situation.
Harris B. Katz, Esq., is Managing Partner, Boca Raton, of the Law Firm Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. Visit www.gadclaw.com or to ask questions about your issues for future columns, send your inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.