The health and safety of community residents is top of mind for the rental housing industry. The National Apartment Association (NAA) has convened industry professionals and subject matter experts to provide useful information to help keep communities safe and healthy. These resources include informative webinars with a wide range of topics, including mental health and resident safety.
Hoarding Disorder: Situations and Solutions for Property Managers
Hoarding disorder is protected under the Fair Housing Act, so property managers must approach each situation differently while keeping residents’ safety top of mind. NAA presented the webinar, “Hoarding Disorder: Situations and Solutions for Property Managers” on Feb. 28, hosted by Wendy Dorchester, Vice President of Operations & Corporate Support for Hawthorne Residential Partners. The panel of nationally recognized experts included:
- Cory Chalmers, President/Founder of Steri-Clean, Crime Scene Steri-Clean and Hoarders.com, who has appeared on 84 episodes of A&E’s “Hoarders,” including the pilot.
- Randy Frost, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Smith College, who has published 200 scientific articles and co-authored several best-selling books on hoarding disorder.
- Christopher Ligatti, Esq., a Trial Attorney for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, who specializes in fair housing and discrimination with published research on hoarding disorder in multiple
- law reviews.
Chalmers began the webinar by describing various situations and threats posed by hoarding—often with graphic photos from his 27 years of professional remediation experience. He presented tell-tale warning signs of hoarding, while vividly portraying various safety concerns including fire risks, structural damage to buildings, rodent and insect infestations and biohazards – all of which threaten neighbors, first-responders and the hoarders themselves.
Frost proceeded to explain the clinical definitions and criteria for diagnosing hoarding disorder. He detailed why people have a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions. Frost described hoarding disorder as causing “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).” It must not be attributable to another medical condition or disorder. Frost also distinguished between squalor and hoarding, while providing ways to approach treatment options.
Ligatti presented the legal issues implicated by hoarding, plus the legal consequences for property managers including potential fines, property condemnations and civil or criminal liability. Hoarding disorder is now considered a medical condition under the Fair Housing Act, which provides for reasonable accommodation requests. Ligatti explained parameters for property managers to administer such requests, including the benefits of obtaining legal counsel. He referred viewers to the “joint task force model,” available in major metropolitan areas for bringing external resources to bear on hoarding situations.
Chalmers concluded the webinar with how to address the clean-up process toward satisfactory outcomes for all parties. He described the need to proceed in a compassionate manner, yet with a strategic approach toward building trust with the afflicted. This plan included prioritizing items: Disposing, donating and recycling them in an appropriate manner. Finally, a program of “aftercare”—providing ongoing therapy, support, professional organization and maintenance cleaning services—is also considered mandatory to help prevent recidivism. Chalmers presented compelling “before and after” photos of how this approach works for all parties, if done properly.
Clear the Air on Smoke-free Apartments
Tobacco has deep roots in U.S. history and entered a widespread cultural trend in the 1950s and 1960s. NAA’s webinar, “Clear the Air on Smoke-free Apartments,” presented on March 7, provided a brief background of smoking since that time and how smoking can affect residents and their communities.
It featured presentations from three speakers with extensive experience in this space: Carleen Crawford, Regional Tobacco Control Manager for North Carolina Health Region 4, covering 11 counties; Anna Stein, Legal Specialist with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; and Scott Wilkerson, Chief Investment Officer at Ginkgo Residential.
Wilkerson began the webinar by explaining the cultural trends in smoking followed by charts showing the decline of smoking across the U.S. population from 45% in 1954 to just 11% in 2022—once tobacco advertising was progressively banned and various public and private entities began implementing smoking bans on premises.
Crawford explained the profound impact upon society of 18 separate U.S. Surgeons’ General reports on tobacco, from 1964 (lung cancer in men) to 2020 (smoking cessation). She presented a medical perspective of the damages to the human body from smoking, and the health consequences of secondhand smoke. Her conclusion was that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and its 7,000 chemicals.
Crawford and Wilkerson described how smoke moves through buildings to where all residents become affected. Moreover, they explained the harm from “thirdhand smoke,” the toxic residue that accumulates on surfaces from smoking, and how expensive it can be for property managers to fully remove upon vacancy. Merely re-painting a unit is insufficient. These same chemicals are also present in the aerosols from e-cigarettes and “vapes.”
Wilkerson listed current trends towards smoke-free spaces and apartments, presenting surveys that 75% of prospective residents prefer smoke-free apartments, and 50% would pay extra for this opportunity. Thus, smoke-free living can be positioned as a highly desired amenity. Wilkerson also quantified the financial benefits to property owners from lower maintenance costs and turnover costs, running into thousands of dollars per apartment.
For Wilkerson’s company, the primary driver for implementing smoke-free policies was the safety risk, trauma and expensive property damage from fires caused by improper disposal of smoking materials, typically on balconies and porches. Smoking in homes remains a leading cause of fires across the U.S. and the number one cause of fire deaths. Wilkerson cited how smoke-free apartments reduce liabilities for property owners from their residents’ exposure to smoke.
Stein addressed these legal issues, explaining how there is no constitutional protection for smokers and smoking in apartments. Marijuana smoking and vaping similarly lack such protection. She explained the legal basis for implementing smoke-free policies, plus how to handle any reasonable accommodation requests under the Fair Housing Act.
Wilkerson and Crawford concluded the webinar with how to effectively implement smoke-free policies. Strategies included educating staff and suppliers to obtain their buy-in, surveying residents for feedback and direction; then finalizing and communicating these policies with sufficient notice to all whom they apply including guests, suppliers and employees. Brochures, signage and maps are important components. Smoke-free policies must also include how violations will be handled. An important distinction to make is that these policies are not discriminating against smokers, but rather against smoking behavior within specified parameters. They apply equally to everyone.
James Campbell is Senior Manager, Industry Operations with NAA.