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Can I Put a Stop to My Hoarder Neighbor?

The process of evaluating and taking legal action in Texas

It is sometimes tough to know when someone is simply messy and likes collecting things or if they need help for the mental illness known as hoarding disorder (HD) that reportedly affects between 2 and 4 percent of the world’s population. The International OCD Foundation provides some guidance, saying an HD diagnosis requires the following:

  1. a person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people
  2. the items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using the rooms as they were intended
  3. the items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.

So how can you step in and do your neighborly duty to help them and ensure your property’s value?

The general advice is to attempt to speak with the offending neighbor personally to see if you can help them to fix issues amicably before involving the authorities. If this doesn’t work, then the next step is to file a complaint.

In Houston, there are options for homeowners that are dealing with a neighbor who is suffering from HD. Under the Texas Neighborhood Nuisance Abatement Act, the Harris County Public Health office (HCPH) investigates complaints of public nuisances. This is one of the very few actionable legal theories that one can employ to force neighbors to act.

Public nuisances are grouped into six categories:

  1. Keeping, storing or accumulating refuse on premises in a neighborhood unless the refuse is entirely contained in an enclosed receptacle
  2. Keeping, storing or accumulating rubbish or any unused, discarded or abandoned object, including newspapers, vehicles, tires and cans on premises in a neighborhood for 10 days or more, unless the rubbish or object is completely enclosed within a building or is not visible from a public street
  3. Maintaining premises in a manner that creates an unsanitary condition likely to attract or harbor mosquitoes, rodents, vermin or disease-carrying pests
  4. Allowing weeds to grow on premises in a neighborhood if such weeds are located within 300 feet of another residence or commercial establishment
  5. Maintaining a building in a manner that is structurally unsafe or constitutes a hazard to safety, health or public welfare because of inadequate maintenance, unsanitary condition, dilapidation, obsolescence, fire hazard, disaster or abandonment
  6. Maintaining a swimming pool or unoccupied property in a neighborhood that is not protected with a fence that is at least four feet high and that has a latched gate that cannot be opened by a child, or protected by a cover over the entire swimming pool that cannot be removed by a child

If a neighbor is maintaining their property in a manner that includes one or more of these categories, a property owner or dweller may file a complaint against their neighbor with the HCPH.

The law allows for a 30-day abatement period, during which time the occupant and owner of the property can fix the issue. If the complaint is merely some accumulated refuse outside of receptacles, it may be an easy fix. But if the problem is larger and not one that can be remedied within the 30-day period, criminal or civil suits may be filed.

Any real estate attorney will tell you that a nuisance complaint is a work of art. It requires a dearth of documentation, clear and convincing evidence that a complaint is justified, and sure-fire evidence that this nuisance has interfered with your quiet enjoyment of your property. To ensure you have everything that you need to file a public nuisance suit, your best bet is to contact a reputable and experienced attorney. They can guide you through the process and ensure the most efficient and positive outcome for all involved. 

For more information on this area, check out our overview of real estate laws.

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