Severe hoarding affects more than families and communities

hoarding puts homes at riskThanks to reality TV to bring about awareness to the nationwide hoarding problem; however, experts agree that chronic hoarding is still under-recognized. The Montgomery County Task Force on Hoarding Behavior Report (Prepared by Department of Health and Human Services February 2011) anticipates that the number of reported hoarding incidents will increase as awareness increases and the population ages. Awareness and recognition is paramount as there is a consensus that hoarding exists in most communities and has the potential to negatively affect the health and safety of those in the community as well as the environment.

Hoarding is often defined as the inability to discard large collections of possessions that appear to have little or no value/use. Additionally, clutter obstructs the use of the home or spaces within; and can pose a significant health or safety risk, as well as risk the maintenance of the home. Hoarders can accumulate things, trash, and even animals. Animal hoarding is a type of hoarding that is difficult to intervene for various reasons that include personal property issues.

In-home risks for hoarders and their families include: tripping, injury (or death) from falling objects, health issues that arise from pests and mold, delayed emergency care. As a result, utilities are often inoperable and the home can become condemned. Although neglect and abuse issues come to mind when you think about hoarders; however, Cristina Sorrentino Schmalisch, PhD, LICSW of the International OCD Foundation ( claims that hoarding is also a public health and fire safety issue “that can put the home at risk for condemnation.”

Of course, according to Dr. Schmalisch, the consequences of hoarding are not limited to the hoarder; the effects of hoarding often spill over on surrounding homes and the neighborhood, especially if the hoarder lives in a multi-family building (such as a condo or apartment). Pest infestation, structural problems, flooding, and electrical fires are just a few of the potential problems that have the potential for property damage and possibly lower the property value. In fact, long term effects of hoarding can also shorten the operational life of systems within the home as well as threaten the structure itself.

hoarding puts homes at riskThe national hoarding problem is very much a local problem as well. Because local incidents of hoarding have been increasing, the Montgomery County Task Force on Hoarding Behavior was established in 2009 by the Department of Health and Human Services to address the complex issues associated with the disorder. The mission of the TFHB was to “coordinate all County actions related to severe hoarding cases in Montgomery County and develop comprehensive long term, proactive strategies to prevent and remediate hoarding situations.”

If you’re unsure how to tell if someone has a sever hoarding problem, common signs include (but not limited to): clutter that blocks windows and doors; clutter that makes it difficult or impossible to use the kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom for their intended purposes; repairs are not made to the home to avoid having visitors; clutter/trash related pest infestations; clutter is unsafely stored close to heating and cooking areas.

Hoarding intervention is commonly approached through both mental health services and building code enforcement. Although it is often difficult to force a hoarder to receive mental health services, the home condition can be addressed through code enforcement citations. For more information or seek help contact the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.

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By Dan Krell

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.  Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.