Hoarding as a mental disorder: New rights for tenants that aren’t sitting well with landlords

WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s “Hoarder’s Law”

16×9 originally aired “Hoarder’s Law” on November 23rd, 2013

Three years ago, Steven Vassilev was thrown into the public eye and labelled a “hoarder” by some of his neighbours. His newspaper and book collection – some of it on his balcony – helped fuel a massive fire, sparked by a cigarette butt tossed from a tenant above. The apartment fire resulted in a successful $4.85 million class action suit against the landlord and property manager for not dealing with complaints that Stephen’s paper collection was a fire hazard.

The hallways in Stephen’s new apartment complex are thick with cigarette smoke. I knock on Stephen’s door, noticing the mail slot is covered with a facecloth pinned to the inside of the door. Waiting for Stephen, I can hear him moving things around inside. Finally, he comes to the door, opens it and greets me with a gentle smile and handshake. I glance over Stephen’s shoulder and see his apartment is filled with cardboard boxes, books, papers, electronics and a piano. He invites me – along with my colleague Katie, in.

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I tour the small apartment and note that Stephen’s bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen are filled to the brim. There’s no furniture beyond a computer desk and a small bed. All the rest of the space is filled with boxes, bookcases, bags, electronics and clothing. We sit on chairs wedged into the narrow pathway Stephen has cleared through the piles of clutter.

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Read more: Residential Tenancies Act Cases – Hoarding vs. Disabled

Stephen has been called a hoarder – but he rejects this label. Rather, he calls himself a “collector”. He says that what he’s really doing, is collecting information that could one day come in handy. He says if he had just been given more space to store his stuff in his old apartment, the fire could have been prevented.

“I asked for a storage locker…I had things on the balcony and also some boxes in the living room, and perhaps a few from the bedroom that I wanted to see stored,” he says.

From what Stephen told me, it doesn’t sound like he plans on paring down his belongings any time soon but he says he is aware of fire safety regulations and plans to comply with them in order to pass inspection.

Read more: Are you a hoarder or just messy?

Despite the piles and piles of clutter, it is somewhat organized. It is also clean. His balcony is also cluttered, but there’s not a shred of paper in sight there. Rather, his two balconies are covered with metal objects, like electronics and a bicycle wrapped in tin foil to protect it from pigeons.

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Stephen thanks me for visiting and for listening to his story. He is still hoping to get a bigger apartment to live more comfortably with his belongings but my guess is that even if he gets it, he will find ways to fill that space too.

WATCH: 16X9 Producer Hannah James explains why people who suffer from a hoarding disorder may have more rights now that hoarding has been recognized as a legitimate mental disorder.

Don’t miss an encore presentation of “Hoarders’ Law” this Saturday at 7pm.

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