Getting Down And Dirty -- Cleaning Up After A Hoarder

3 June 2015
 Categories: , Articles


You're not a hoarder, but a close relative is or was. And, unfortunately, their problem has become yours. Whether the hoarder in your family has been taken to jail because of their hoarding problem, or they have passed away and left a home filled with garbage, you have suddenly found yourself responsible for cleaning up a mess not of your own making. This is not an easy task. In most cases, you will need a lot of help and cleaning supplies as well as at least one dumpster rental-- if not more.  In many cases, you will also need a strong stomach to deal with what could be a very nasty, smelly situation. 

Hoarding Laws

In July 2014, Houston passed what is believed to be the first anti-hoarding law for condominiums, townhomes and apartments. If a hoarding situation is discovered, the homeowner could be fined up to $500 a day until the mess is cleaned up.

And while other jurisdictions may not have anti-hoarding laws on the books, many still combat hoarding in different manners. For example, Fairfax County in Virginia has a Hoarding Task Force that responds to calls from concerned community members.  If this task force inspects and property and determines that it is a health or safety hazard, they can order that the property be cleaned up. If the property owner fails to comply, they could be fined or could even end up in jail. 

Cleaning Up After a Hoarder

Unfortunately, it is not easy to clean up after a hoarder. You may discover piles of magazines, dead pests -- and even dead pets -- feces and old food.  It could actually take months to thoroughly clean out a home. To start, you will need to:

  •  Assess the situation. Walk (if you can) through the house so you can determine how many dumpsters you are going to need.
  • Ask for help. This is not a time to be a martyr. Cleaning up after a hoarder is going to require a lot of heavy lifting and toting of items to the dumpster. 
  • Talk to dumpster companies so you can decide what your options are. You will need to figure out what size dumpster you will want to rent and what the company's standard rental period is. When speaking with a dumpster rental company, you will also need to ask them what their fees include as these can vary from business to business. For instance, do the company's fees include delivery, pickup and disposal of your debris at a landfill? Or are haul-away fees extra? 
  • Contact your local authorities to see where you can leave your dumpster while you are cleaning out the house. Some jurisdictions require that a homeowner get a permit if they plan on leaving a dumpster on a street for any period of time. 

Getting Down and Dirty

Hoarding homes can actually be dangerous to your health, so it's important to protect yourself. Recently, a woman cleaning out a hoarder's home for a reality television show was sickened by Hantavirus. This disease is spread by inhaling the droppings of infected mice or rats. And, unfortunately, hoarders' homes are often breeding grounds for pests. So when cleaning a hoarding situation, make sure to:

  • Wear gloves and a mask
  • Scrub down surfaces with a disinfectant
  • Discard items that may have been soiled by rats or mice

Because cleaning up after a hoarder is so time-consuming and such dirty work, your best bet is to get through the mess as quickly as possible. Don't, for instance, worry too much about the value of items. Yes, some of the clothing or books you find could get you a few bucks at a consignment store, but if they have been soiled by rats or have been buried under trash, they may not be worth the time to shop around. Instead, your best bet would be to toss almost everything you find into the dumpster.