Real State

My Neighbor May Be a Hoarder. How Do We Get in There and Find Out?

Q: I am on the board of a small co-op in Manhattan. One of our residents is very private, and possibly a hoarder. He refuses to allow anyone to enter his apartment, even the super. The managing agent has tried contacting this resident by phone and by letter so he can investigate a foul smell that is likely coming from the apartment, but the resident does not respond. The resident’s family member who has helped us in the past has been unreachable. How do we respect this person’s privacy while also making sure that his apartment isn’t disturbing others?

A: Your desire to respect this resident’s privacy and to reach out to his family are neighborly instincts. But if his family is not responsive, you might have to be aggressive to ensure the well-being of everyone in the building.

Most proprietary leases have an access provision. If you haven’t already sent a demand letter seeking access to the apartment, the board should work with a lawyer to send one, allowing for whatever notice is included in the lease (typically it’s 30 days). In the letter, advise the resident that if access is not granted, the board can seek to terminate his proprietary lease through housing court.

Even if it doesn’t come to that, it will likely get his attention, said Marc H. Schneider, managing partner of Schneider Buchel, a law firm that represents co-op boards.

“Once you go to court, you do get a resolution on it,” Mr. Schneider said. You can negotiate that the unit be cleaned up, with a stipulation that it remains clean.

If this is a case of hoarding — which is classified as a mental disorder and protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act — the court might require some accommodations, such as extra time to resolve the issues at hand. But you and your neighbors have rights too, Mr. Schneider said, and you do not have to live with this smell.

You can also try to engage adult protective services. “This may be a case of neglect, or self-neglect,” said Dina Patel, a geriatric psychiatrist in Manhattan. In cases of self-neglect, people cannot care for themselves and are unable to meet their physical and psychological needs, resulting in threats to their safety or well-being.

“Adult protective services can be very helpful here,” Dr. Patel said. Contact the agency online or by calling (718) 557-1399.

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