Help for hoarding is available
Q. I have a neighbour who is a hoarder. I try to help but nothing works. Is there any legal way I can help?
A. Yes but first let’s talk a bit about hoarding.
Hoarding disorder has various descriptions but there is a common theme - excessive accumulation and an inability to discard objects. These objects usually clutter living areas in the home and cause distress. Since 2014 it is characterized as a mental disorder.
From the legal viewpoint, dealing with hoarding can become quite complex since there can be many laws that apply and potential participants. It depends on the particular situation of each case. Sometimes the starting point is relatively easy in terms of finding out where one can begin legal work. If this was a landlord-tenant situation one can quickly find out in the lease or the law that a tenant may not compromise the safety or hygiene of a lodging. A landlord can file a complaint with the Régie du logement. Condo associations are usually ready to deal with dangerous clutter in rules applicable to all condo owners.
However these private contracts or public laws co-exist with other laws that are not precluded from applying concurrently because hoarding is both a mental health concern and a public safety issue. There is always a balancing act between the needs and rights of the hoarder and the health and safety needs of those around them. For example, there could be an inherent risk due to electrical cords, heaters, etc. being buried under contents. This has led to fires. Dangers such as mold and animal infestation have the potential of causing injury and disease.
Here in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region, we are lucky that many municipalities have adopted an intersectoral strategy concerning unhealthy environments in our area. This initiative to have a strategy on hoarding came about when the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) of Montérégie-Ouest invited interveners from municipalities, police, ambulance, and firefighting services, public safety and health professionals around the same table in 2013 in order to share their expertise and work together.
Important players are the municipalities who are autonomous in the application and adoption of bylaws that can apply to hoarders. The Municipal Powers Act permits municipalities to adopt by-laws in matters of sanitation. If formal notices required to correct an unsanitary situation are not respected the Superior Court can become involved. Under the Act respecting land use planning and development, municipalities may adopt by-laws prescribing measures for the occupancy and maintenance of buildings. In extreme cases legal orders could lead to demolition.
Outside the municipal area, in the public health area, there is an Act respecting health services and social services that can apply to maintain and improve the mental capacity of people in their community. An act respecting the protection of persons whose mental state presents a danger to themselves or to others can apply. In other circumstances a public curator can become involved.
Firemen and ambulances are sometimes first responders and see hoarding first-hand. They may have to apply certain laws, notably the Fire Safety Act.
The list of laws or possible intervenors described above is not exhaustive. There are many participants and many laws to deal with the sad predicament of hoarding. That is why the intersectoral strategy is so important to bring everyone together and maintain communication between parties in order to promote concerted action between the various parties.
You are not left alone to figure all this out yourself. One action to take is to phone your municipality (or 311 if available) to discuss it with them. Other authorities may be involved but it’s where many cases start for analysis and developing an action plan.
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