The Condominium's Duty Regarding Hoarding (Part 2)
I know what you are thinking: "Now that I know what hoarding is and why I should care about it, how do I fix it?" Well, like I said in my last post, there is no one size fits all solution. In some cases, it will be relatively easy to deal with the hoarding. In other cases, it will require court intervention. It really is a case-by-case determination. The first step whenever an owner breaches the Act or any of the condominium's documents is usually a letter from the board or property manager. The reason? You want to give the owner an opportunity to comply before taking further steps and incurring any costs. For hoarding, the letter should describe the specific concerns (i.e. during a recent inspection we noticed a large amount of combustible material stored on your stove), provide a date for entry to the unit (for a further inspection), and outline the consequences if the owner does not take steps to alleviate the problem (i.e. involvement of the condominium's lawyer and a chargeback of the costs, if possible). If the owner does not improve the condition of the unit by the deadline provided in the letter (or letters if appropriate), it may be time to consider help from outside sources, like the local fire department, fire safety specialists, or lawyer. In my experience, it is impossible to predict what the local fire department will do when you call them. Sometimes they come out and inspect the unit, but sometimes they don't. If they do inspect the unit, sometimes it is helpful, but other times it is not. Part of the problem is their mandate. The hoarding could be a health and safety issue without necessarily being a fire issue. The biggest concern is that the fire department will sometimes name the condominium and/or property manager on a work order. If this happens, the condominium and/or property manager must fulfill the work required in the unit or they could be charged. Fire safety specialists are a good option in some instances. Some will help the owner find the resources he needs to deal with his hoarding disorder while the clean-up is underway. This option has the best chance of reducing the likelihood of recurrences, but may take too long if there is a risk of damage to the property or injury to persons. The issue that often arises with this option is the responsibility for the cost of the specialist. Some condominiums do not want to incur the cost when an owner is responsible for the situation. Other condominiums decide the cost is worth it if it means they can avoid a court application (and the legal fees and uncertainty that come with court). It will depend upon the facts, but it can be a useful option for both the condominium and the owner in some cases. Finally, the most extreme option is an application to the Superior Court of Justice pursuant to the Condominium Act, 1998 (i.e. sections 92, 117, 119, and 134). This option should only be used in the most serious cases (i.e. where there is a chance of property damage or injury to persons on the property). A court application may be necessary if the unit is contaminated with mould or vermin, is so full it is causing structural concerns, or there is an increased risk of fire or the speed at which a fire would spread from unit to unit. If the condominium is successful, it may recover all or most of the clean-up costs from the owner of the unit. While the legal costs are in the discretion of the judge, a successful condominium should be able to recover most of its legal costs as well (assuming they are reasonable). Hoarding is a serious issue that may require legal advice quicker than most enforcement issues. Do not hesitate to give the condominium's lawyer a quick call to discuss the options and figure out which one is the most appropriate in your particular circumstances. A few minutes at the start could save you time and money later.