As a property owner, you are at risk of tenant behaviors that can damage your investment. If you are concerned that a tenant is a hoarder, understand that you have responsibilities to that tenant that go beyond just eviction and clearing out the space.
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Getting Into the Space
Yearly inspections of your property are critical to avoiding a hoarding issue. If you have a tenant who will not allow you into the property, you have a red flag that something is going on in the property that may be destructive to your investment.
In areas where the rental market is tight, your best bet may be to notify this client that their lease will not be renewed. Once the lease is up, they have to go. This will give you access to the property for a final inspection.
Getting Into the Property
If you give notice that the lease will not be renewed and get a lot of push-back, demand an inspection before you renew. If you find illegal activities in the house, call the police. If you find hoarding, your tenant may agree to get help for their illness.
Should your tenant agree to care, you may need to
- rent a dumpster
- hire a cleaning crew to help the tenant remove trash
- paint or refinish flooring in the case of animal hoarding
- get the home treated for pests
Hoarders often hang onto food as well as junk mail and newspapers. Functionally, they lack the ability to organize and find a sense of emotional control in keeping all of their possessions, no matter how much this limits their living space.
Understand the Illness
Hoarders can suffer dangerous levels of distress at the idea of getting rid of things. Your tenant may become extremely upset at the idea of moving and may even be at risk of self-harm at the idea of getting rid of anything.
Should your hoarding tenant threaten self-harm, it’s critical that you bring in the authorities. They may require hospitalization and they will certainly require therapy. If they refuse care, you will need to move to protect yourself and your property.
Once the Hoarder is Out
Once the hoarder is out of their property, you may be left with their belongings. You will have a responsibility to hold onto their things for a time if you have had to evict them. Make sure you understand the laws in your state prior to the eviction process to protect yourself from legal risk as you get rid of their belongings.
Some landlords will pack up belongings and store them so they can get to work on the house. If you are only required to hold onto the tenant’s possessions for 30 days or less, consider sealing up the house and waiting out the time. Bringing in the pest control team may be a good idea. While you’re waiting to tackle the inside, tidy up the outside and do what you can to make the place look good.
Clean the gutters. Cut the grass. Trim shrubs and take care to trim along the fence line and around the foundation. If the weather is good, touch up the paint on the windows or the shutters. Paint the garage door. Improve the lighting and add solar motion lights around the back of the property to keep out squatters and scavengers.
Read more: How to Buy Your First Rental Property
Tackling the Inside
Once you have legal possession of all the contents of the house, it’s time to get busy. You may be tempted to rent a dumpster for a week to give yourself time to haul everything out. However, a dumpster can quickly get filled up with neighborhood trash, which means you have to pay for other folks’ old sofas and toilets to get tossed.
If you can walk through the house, make room to get the biggest pieces of furniture out of the home. List it for sale or give it away “as is” online. Bring in free boxes and invest in heavy duty trash bags so you can load up everything and start stacking it where the big furniture used to sit.
Your goal is to bring in a dumpster at 8 a.m. and be ready to fill it over the course of the day so your dumpster can be picked up before dark. This will protect you from having to pay for dumped mattresses and televisions, which can get quite expensive.
As you go through the house, keep an eye out for
- mold and moisture damage
- rodent droppings and dead bugs
- signs of termite damage
One of the worst things about cleaning up after a hoarder is that you don’t know what’s been growing behind that stack of newspapers or under that row of rusty food cans.
You will need proper protective gear to clean up a hoarding house. Even if you had the place treated for pests, roaches and fleas breed quickly, and untreated eggs will hatch and put you at risk. As you work through the home, get the windows open to freshen the air.
Gloves are critical if the house you’re working on is in an area with
- black widows
- brown recluses
These critters love paper, cardboard boxes, and darkness.
You can save yourself a lot of work by bringing in a cleaning crew. You can save yourself money by doing it yourself. If you plan to sell unopened items, you will want to do the work yourself.
Once the Trash is Gone
Once you have all the trash out of the house, work from the top down. Sweep the ceilings and brush down the ceiling fans. Pull the glass globes and wash them. You can freshen a dated ceiling fan with spray paint.
Landlord tip: When working on a cleanup, make sure you bring old towels. Put water and dish soap in the bathtub. Work your way around the house and remove the light switch covers and the outlet covers. Put the screws back in the outlet and put the covers on the towel in the tub, then add enough water and a bit of degreasing dish soap to cover.
Light fixture covers and globes can go in the same water. Once you’re done painting, these will be ready to rinse and be put back on the walls or the light fixtures. The towel will cushion the glass fixtures from damage against the tub.
If bugs have been a problem, roll up the carpet and get it out of the house. Consider hiring someone to haul it off right away. If you have the energy, you can put it in the dumpster at the end of your trash hauling day. Do your best to protect it from getting rained on. Wet carpet will be much harder to load and cost more at the dump.
Read more: How to Bird Dog Real Estate
Do an Intense Clean
Once the dust has been brushed away and the carpets are gone, start with water. If your hoarder had a pet, there is likely urine on the subfloor and you don’t want to add bleach to that ammonia. Open the windows and use fans to draw air through the room you’re working in.
Carefully assess the floors. Are they OSB, plywood, hardwood, or concrete? Do you plan to re-carpet? If the floors are hardwood and you plan to salvage them, simply mop up the nastiest parts and get to work on the ceiling and walls. If you plan to re-carpet or put down another flooring, the process below has worked for me.
Invest in a heavy duty mop handle and several cotton heads. You want the old-fashioned string heads for this process. Wet mop the floor, then go over it with a dry mop head. Toss both of these. Mix 1/3 cup of bleach (this landlord likes the lavender scented variety) for every gallon of water and go over the floor you just washed with water. Let the floors dry completely, then go over them with water again and dry them with a new dry mop head.
Once the floors are dry, wash the walls from ceiling to floor with a TSP mix, rubber gloves, and a face shield. While you’re washing the walls, keep a pencil with you and circle any holes in the wall so you can come back and quickly patch and sand later. Don’t wash ceilings, but do brush them thoroughly.
Paint the Envelope
Invest in a good quality, stain-hiding primer and get some heavy nap roller covers. If you can find someone who can tint your primer and you have a basic idea of the color you want, you may be able to save yourself a step. Roll down the walls first, then roll the ceilings before you discard the roller cover.
If your floors were subjected to pet urine, prime them as well. You may also want to prime any painted trim. Take the time to roller these with a fine latex roller to avoid puddling and ridges of paint.
Functionally, you’re creating an envelope of primer to cut down on any odors that may have been captured in the walls. Paint is a great fix for cigarette and old pet odors.
Finally, wash the windows. Dusty windows make a house look dirty. Sparkling windows will make it easier to make the decorating choices that will help you resurrect your property.
Making the Home Beautiful
In the kitchen and bath, you may wind up replacing fixtures if there has been any rot under the cabinets, the toilet, or the sink. Getting an inspector under these rooms is probably a good choice. Once you know the floor is solid, you can actually get a lot of beauty out of existing fixtures.
Pull the cabinet doors and gently sand them to roughen the surface. Wipe them down with a rag and some mineral spirits, then prime them with a fine latex foam roller. If you notice that the hardware has been painted, pull one hinge and head to the hardware store to look for replacements. Updating hardware on painted cabinets can make them look new again.
If you’re on a budget, choose flooring before you choose any topcoat paint colors. You may have a great deal on a particular end run of carpet, solid surface, or vinyl. Bring a sample to the house and lay this against the wall where the sun will hit them directly. Is the flooring sample a yellow base (warm) or a blue base (cool)?
Cream walls look great with a warm carpet but will make a blue base carpet look drab. Pale grey or off-white walls will look crisp and sharp against a blue base barn wood flooring but make a cherry or red oak look dusty and dirty. Because paint costs basically the same no matter what color you choose, choosing your flooring first can save a great deal of money.
Existing tile can be cleaned, sanded, and painted for a great look without a lot of demo labor. Do use fans to keep air moving and be ready for several coats.
There is great joy in turning a disaster into a lovely home. However, it can be extremely challenging to get a hoarder out of one of your properties. Keep a spreadsheet or a notebook that you can use to track your last inspection. If you get regular maintenance of the HVAC system done, piggyback on this visit to get eyes on your properties. Hoarders need help, but if they refuse, you will need to take steps to protect your property.