Houston City Council Passes Anti-Hoarding Ordinance

Apr. 16, 2014Houston Public Media

Houston’s new anti-hoarding ordinance applies only to apartments, condominiums and town houses.

Mayor Annise Parker said she probably could have gotten support for an ordinance that included stand-alone single-family homes, but the ordinance as passed is a good first step.

It gives police access to locations where people who hoard might be affecting neighbors, and will also give them the authority to enter a property with a warrant. Violators of the ordinance could face fines of up to $500 dollars.

Parker said the ordiance is meant to provide safety and relief for people who live near hoarders, as well as to be a tool for mental health intervention.

“Usually the ones who hoard animals come to our attention quicker because it’s more noticeable,” she said. “But from a public safety standpoint,having a condominium packed can be a very deadly circumstance. So, I think this is a good step forward and I appreciate council allowing us to move forward on hoarding.”

The ordinance gives police the ability to enter homes to check for signs of hoarding.

“Someone could contact Neighborhood Protection or contact the police and say, ‘I think my next door neighbor is a hoarder, here’s why.’ And the police would actually have an opportunity to go in, and – doing what is in essence a welfare check – say, ‘We believe you may have conditions in your unit that contribute to a public safety hazard,'” Parker said.

Dr. Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Boston based International OCD Foundation, includes the Hoarding Center, supports the ordiance.

“We understand that hoarding disorder, the consequence of hoarding disorder symptoms, is that it creates a safety hazard, actually for those who hoard,” he said. “… On the extreme end of things, (it) also poses a threat to first responders, and can be a problem for public safety and for neighbors, etc. So we all understand that, and I think that cities should have comprehensive ordinances that address these issues.”

But, while he lauds Houston’s efforts to address the problem, Szymanski said it could have been called something else.

“Because when you read that title, and before I actually read the  ordinance, it sounds like a kind of inflammatory, stigma-increasing stance towards hoarding. But again, when you read the ordinance, there’s an attempt to be sensitive to those who are struggling with this, and to find different ways to work with them.”