Q: A shareholder in our small, self-managed co-op is in his 80s and has dementia. His unit is in need of maintenance, cleaning and decluttering because of hoarding. The building now has a roach infestation. At significant cost to the co-op, we fumigated the building; we also packed up and removed items in his unit, fumigated them and returned them to him. He has never unpacked the boxes, and new clutter has accumulated around them. The roach problem continues. We’ve contacted his adult children, hoping they could help, but they have not. What are our options?
A: Hoarding is a mental disorder, and can accompany dementia. In cities, where neighbors live in crowded buildings and share walls and hallways with one another, it’s often a problem that affects the well-being of other people. But residents are entitled to safe and habitable living conditions, their neighbor’s mental health struggles notwithstanding.
So far, you and your co-op have done the right things — you have tried to contact the family and have addressed the sanitation issues. As a next step, you should get more forceful with his family. If that doesn’t work, get the courts involved.
“Although it may seem heavy-handed, the right course is to issue a notice of default,” said David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. The board should send the notice to the shareholder and his family members, explaining that he is in default of his proprietary lease because his behavior has created a nuisance and disturbed other shareholders.
It’s possible his family is ignoring your calls because they’re overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. “Even if the family goes and cleans up the place, the person will create the same condition in another few days,” Mr. Kaminsky said. “I’ve seen it happen.”
The board could also call Adult Protective Services, alerting the agency to the situation and asking for guidance.
If none of this works, pull a fire alarm by terminating his lease and taking him to housing court. Your end goal is not to evict an older man with dementia, but to force the courts to help him get the assistance he needs. “The courts are very loath to cause an eviction” in this kind of situation, Mr. Kaminsky said. “It happens only in extreme cases. They absolutely don’t want it to happen.”
In all likelihood, the court will appoint a guardian to assist your neighbor, and other social services will step in, too.