We’ve all watched that television show Hoarders, in disbelief…however, hoarding is more common than you think. Junk piled to the ceiling, bugs on food, used cat litter left in the open, rat droppings, dead animals, stacks of fast-food cups, boxes of empty pill bottles, and used Band-Aids are among the items seen in hoarders’ houses by respondents to a new survey by Insure.com, an independent consumer insurance website.
According to a survey of 2,000 adults, 46 percent know someone who hoards, and 6 percent of people identify themselves as hoarders.
Compulsive hoarding is a disorder that goes beyond “collecting” or lack of cleaning. Hoarders are unable to stop adding to their piles, and the items end up impeding daily activities. Hoarders may feel emotional attachments to objects that others regard as trash, even while health, fire, and even structural hazards are apparent to others.
“A stack of old newspapers doesn’t necessarily make you a hoarder,” said Amy Danise, editorial director of Insure.com. “A stack of old newspapers that blocks a door does.”
Hoarding usually leads to fire or health hazards, according to people who know a hoarder. When asked about specific hazards they have witnessed, people point to:
• Fire hazard — 59 percent
• Health hazard — 53 percent
• Hazard to health of animals — 20 percent
• Other hazard — 9 percent (Respondents often reported trip and fall hazards.)
Efforts to throw out items often backfire when the person who hoards becomes even more resistant to getting rid of the piles. Among the survey respondents who know hoarders, 71 percent have tried to get rid of items. Of those:
• Twenty-five percent said they were successful.
• Thirty-four percent said they failed.
• Forty-one percent said they were able to throw away only some items.
Hoarding can have serious insurance implications if a homeowners insurer performs an inspection and discovers the hazards. Hoarding could also come to light during an insurer’s visit for an insurance claim, such as a kitchen fire or even a claim unrelated to the piles, such as weather damage.
Insurers that discover hoarding will often give a customer a timeline for improving the property. In extreme cases where a hoarder can’t clean up enough, an insurer could cancel the policy rather than take the risk of future claims. Note: An increase in claims will reflect in the homeowner’s insurance premium.
“By the time your insurance company is thinking of cancelling you, you’ve likely had fire and health hazards for years,” said Danise. A lesson of the day: Get rid of your junk before it becomes hazardous to your health, your property and your wallet!