Hoarding Disorder and Fires

Toronto Councillor, Josh Matlow, recently announced plans to ask the Fire Chief to prepare a presentation on the transparency of fire inspections – but the issue is that the fire department is bound by legislation to handle all such information a certain way.

For $5 the freedom of information is available to anyone to access from the fire department – including landlords – and should one still not be satisfied upon realizing pertinent information has been blackened out – one still has a right to appeal. Once all those appeal avenues have been exhausted, one could then perhaps follow up with the councilor.

This has all suddenly come up as a hot-button issue because of the recent London fire that killed 79 people in a lower income building. The fear was/is that it could happen here, so politicians like Toronto’s Matlow are at least trying to highlight the issue with preemptive strikes. Those fires, however, had to do with combustible external panels, an issue not so far having been raised here.

What they really need to keep focused on to ensure the reduced possibilities of fires, is to clamp down on tenants with excessive amounts of clutter inside their units many of whom suffer from hoarding disorder a form of obsessive compulsive mental illness.

How quickly everyone seems to have forgotten the lessons supposedly learned from the 2003 Toronto Community Housing Corporation fire at 200 Wellesley St when 1200 residents were displaced and started in a unit occupied by a resident suffering from the disorder.

“Clear means of egress”

So what’s a landlord to do? Ensure a clear means of egress to each exit inside the unit at the cost of possibly lives? The problem is you have a number of variables that interchange here from human rights to mental health as landlords have a duty to accommodate to undo hardship. In the end, the Landlord and Tenant Board reluctantly issues eviction orders in these cases and not without first giving the tenant many opportunities to declutter.

What can be done?

Prior to issuing an eviction notice first take steps to accommodate the tenant by working with those afflicted residents to declutter their homes through contacting third-party agencies, such as mental health and social workers, including “Purgers” who help with the decluttering process. An entrepreneurial Hamilton businesswoman I met recently actually started a business to help hoarders declutter and purge so there seems to be a growing demand.

Transparency and access to freedom of information will not stop fires from occurring in residential complexes – preventative measures will.

“From my experience but for landlords, tenants, paralegals and third party agencies continuing to work together, we may well be on our way to a crisis, especially when you add the growing bed bug epidemic into the equation. Will we wait until another Wellesley Street happens again before we act? I sure hope not.

Lisa Barder