Commercial Litigation, Real Estate

Speed is key when addressing hoarders, pests in condos

By Kathy Rumleski, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Condominium boards and managers should deal with hoarding and pest issues quickly, going to court if necessary, to stay on top of potentially expensive problems, says Toronto condominium and commercial litigator Megan Mackey.

“Often, the condominium board doesn’t really appreciate how bad the problem is and what risks are associated with it,” Mackey tells AdvocateDaily.com.

She says hoarding typically comes to light as the result of a pest infestation or a plumbing issue.

“We may get reports of pests or leaks coming from a unit,” says Mackey, a partner with Shibley Righton LLP.

“If it’s reported as a plumbing issue, the plumber may refuse to go into the unit because he or she discovers there is a hoarding problem,” she says.

“For most condos, the annual fire inspection is a good way to keep an eye out for hoarding.”

Mackey recalls a hoarder that had both plumbing issues and pests in their unit.

“Everything came to light because the leaks in one unit caused a hole in the drywall of the ceiling of the unit below and the cockroaches were coming in through holes caused by water leaks,” she says.

When there was no resolution reached with the unit owner, Mackey says the condominium corporation took him to court.

“The owner told the judge he bought four cockroach traps. The owner felt he was addressing the issue, but the traps would only scratch the surface of the problem,” she says.

Mackey says she was able to get a court order allowing the condo corporation to clear out the entire unit and do whatever repairs were needed.

“The fees were all billed to the unit owner,” she says.

Many hoarders will continue the behaviour even after all the repairs are made and the unit is cleaned up, Mackey says.

"When that happens, the best response is to go in quarterly with a cleaning crew,” she says. “Regular cleaning can stop the situation from becoming a problem.”

Another hoarding example that Mackey was called about concerned an elderly couple with mobility issues. One was a chain smoker, which was particularly worrying, she recalls.

A condo manager must give people 48 hours’ notice before going in for an inspection unless there is an emergency, Mackey explains.

Once this couple was given notice, the manager saw them dragging items to their storage locker, despite their mobility problems, she says.

“After the inspection, they dragged everything back,” Mackey says.

“We went to court and negotiated an order that spelled out how many storage bins of belongings they were allowed to keep in each room. It was the first time I’ve ever had to do that.”

Other indicators of hoarding, Mackey says, can include items being stored in a parking space between the car and the wall or unit windows covered with foil.

“If there is a suspicion of hoarding, it’s important to look into it,” she says.

While condo corporations usually bill hoarders for the cleanup, that’s not the case with pests, says Mackey.

“When it’s a pest problem that’s not associated with hoarding we recommend not charging the owners,” Mackey says. “If you charge, nobody will ever tell you they have pests.”

Especially with bedbugs, you just want to get rid of them quickly, she says.

“A condo board may spray all units in a certain area to ensure pests are exterminated and haven’t travelled to other units,” says Mackey.

Some condo corporations put pest control as a line item in the budget, she says, “and all of the owners would contribute to pest control as part of their fees.”

Regardless of the problem, be it hoarding or pests in a specific unit, Mackey says the key is to act right away.

“The problem is not going to be any easier or cheaper to address down the road,” she says. “It will likely be more expensive, especially if you end up going to court.”

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