Hoarding is considered a mental health disorder and onset is often preceded by a stressful or traumatic life event.
But when it occurs in rented accommodation, it can be tough for both the tenant and the landlord.
What can be one person's accumulation of significant belongings could be a landlord's safety concern when materials pile up.
Finding ways to deal with the situation can be challenging, which is what one Port Coquitlam landlord found when he sought to give a long-time tenant one month's notice for cause because of clutter.
In the case dealt with by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB), a landlord sought to evict a tenant who had lived on their property for seven years.
According to the landlord, who brought their case to the RTB late last year, the tenant had been accumulating materials to the point of "hoarding."
In testimony, the agent for the landlord said they had worked "tirelessly" with the tenant over the years to help and aid her in keeping her rental unit clean and sanitary, including issuing many written warnings over the years.
Tenant's clutter worried landlord
Matters came to a head on June 23, 2021, during the extreme weather that led to the first of three heat domes last year.
An inspection found the floors and carpet were "filthy, the rental unit was full of personal property, and one of the bedrooms was completely filled with items, making access impossible," the landlord's agent stated.
Concerns were also raised about possible infestation due to the clutter and the heat.
The tenant, meanwhile, admitted they had hoarding issues "in the past," but told the RTB hearing she recognized "she cannot keep that amount of property on the premises."
As many as 195 small bags of garbage had been removed from the property in recent months, she said, with 30 more to be removed.
The tenant agreed on the day of the inspection, the home was cluttered as she had been dealing with her daughter’s surgical recovery.
But she denied the rental unit was dirty and described the floors might appear to be dirty because they are "very old."
She claimed she didn’t damage the rental unit "in any way."
Tenant allowed to stay
To make a decision, the RTB director weighed photographic evidence and found that the photos the landlord submitted were not current or didn’t show "extraordinary damage to the rental unit" or any circumstance that could have put the landlord’s property at "significant risk."
For example, although there was clutter in some of the rooms, it didn't block access.
The tenant, meanwhile, provided photos showing that she had cleaned her rental unit.
In weighing the evidence, the arbitrator noted it was up to the landlord to prove the grounds on which the notice was issued.
"Accordingly, I order that the notice dated June 24, 2021, is cancelled," the RTB director wrote, adding the one-month eviction notice was "of no force or effect."
"I order the tenancy continue until it is ended in accordance with the act.”
However, due to issues of the past, and the fact that the tenant "has a history of failing to comply with her obligations," she was put on notice that should she fail to maintain her rental unit the landlord could issue another one month notice to end the tenancy for cause.
What's more, the tenant was told that the landlord is entitled to make regular inspections of the rental unit and yard when legal notice of entry has been provided.
For those with hoarding issues, a number of self-help strategies are available at heretohelp.bc.ca
Those with landlord or tenant concerns can visit the Residential Tenancy Branch for guides to dispute resolution, information about rent increases or tenancy agreements and to apply for a dispute resolution online.