10/31/2011 2:42 PM ET|
4 ways hoarding puts homes at risk
The problem is much worse than mere messiness or disorganization, and too much clutter could cost you your homeowners policy.
Hoarders have another reason to get help: Being a hoarder could hinder the ability to get or keep homeowners insurance.
The potential pitfalls in the homes of hoarders -- people who can't stop acquiring items and have a hard time getting rid of their belongings -- include fire and injury. As a result, hoarders are at a higher risk in the eyes of a home insurer, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
The link between hoarding and homeowners insurance could affect you, your family, your friends or your neighbors.
Jeff Szymanski, the executive director of the International OCD Foundation, says the disorder of hoarding has come to light since 1993, with more research and education about the condition. Although it's difficult to determine how many people are affected by the disorder, he says there are an estimated 5 million hoarders in the United States.
Homeowners insurance is important to hoarders who want to protect their belongings, but Szymanski says the condition is so debilitating that some can't set priorities, and they struggle with making decisions.
"They understand the value of homeowners insurance," he says. "They can't act on it, because there are too many other things that feel equally urgent to them."
Hoarders' cluttered homes often are the focal point for the condition as their stuff takes over their residences. Hoarding homeowners:
- Can't use entryways or rooms. "They can't cook in the kitchen. They can't eat at the kitchen table," Szymanski says. "The level of clutter in their house is really impairing their ability to do day-to-day functioning."
- Fill their attics to the point of potential collapse. An accumulation of boxes as well as newspapers and books -- the most commonly hoarded items -- can lead to severe stress on structural components, Worters says. The floor systems can sag, crack or even collapse, causing damage to a home and its occupants.
Getting and keeping insurance
TV shows like "Hoarders" have brought greater attention to the condition. Nicki Kopassis, an agent with Farmers Insurance in Virginia Beach, Va., remembers visiting a home where the yard was crammed with so many items that liability concerns prevented a policy from being written. And that was before "hoarder" was a frequently used term.
But insurers often don't know whether a person is a hoarder because the insurers' representatives don't normally inspect a home's interior before an insurance policy is written, Worters says. If the outside looks OK, a hoarder homeowner could obtain insurance even if piles of junk fill the interior.
When homeowners insurance policies are written or denied, or when a claim is made, no category designates the policyholder as a hoarder. But in the case of a claim, an insurance adjuster would visit the home and notify the agent if the condition of the property is poor enough for the policy not to be renewed, Kopassis says.
"While contracts do not exclude hoarding, the policy most likely would be non-renewed, or you would pay a higher premium," Worters says.
Four reasons for risk
Here are four key reasons hoarders are a higher risk for homeowners insurers:
1. Fire. The accumulation of materials around the home could increase the risk of a blaze, Worters says. The top causes of fires are related to cooking, heating and electricity. In the kitchen, an accumulation of grease, food items and trash increases the potential for a fire. Paper or other flammable materials near heating systems or electrical wires boost the risk of fire and also burn quickly, Worters says.
2. Liability. If a friend or family member is injured in a hoarder's home, a claim could be filed against the homeowner's policy. The potential for injury is one reason it's common for hoarders' homes to be condemned, Szymanski says.
3. Blocked exits. Possessions that obstruct or block exits could make it more difficult to escape during an emergency and more difficult for public safety personnel to enter a home. Szymanski says he recently talked with a daughter whose mother, in her 60s, broke her leg crawling through her bedroom window because clutter was blocking a door.
4. Poor maintenance. Hoarders are likely to delay addressing roof leaks and electrical, heating or plumbing problems, which can lead to a greater number of claims, Worters says. In many cases, the heating equipment no longer functions because of blocked vents or equipment. She says occupants will use kerosene or space heaters, which create an immediate fire hazard because they usually are placed amid newspapers and other combustible materials.
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I had my Farmers insurance agent call me about a week ago and said he was informed by his area manager that I was targeted for cancelation because I had a 1964 truck in my driveway, with a flat tire. The agent came by and we placed a tarp over the backside of the truck and over the cab. I aired up the tire and he took pictures of the truck and sent it to who ever. He was told that it was an abanden truck. I showed my agent all of the parts I purchased over the years to bring it up to show quality hotrod. I've spent over $10,000. on chrome parts alone. And another $10K on trick power mods and custom built. I will have $30K invested into that abandon truck before it is showable. The real odd thing here is, I own the only fire safe home in the neighborhood. Completely covered with stucco, and concrete tile roofing. If a fire ever got started in the area, I will be the only home standing. I'm the only one who has cleared the brush back away from the back of my property line. My OCD truck is not the problem, it is the person who came and looked at the home and just didn't think, maybe that old truck was someones project. Time to shop for other insurance company relationship. I'm thinking the 99% folks have a good point. Large company greed and out of touch boardroom policy making. Bottom line is dollars, to hell with the people. 24 years I paid for coverage and now they want to end it because of a hotrod truck I'm building up. Time to say good bye to big business.
Not to mention the way it can just wear a house out if it is not being cleaned regularly. My inlaws are hoarders, much to our grief. Their beautiful home is crumbling around them, mostly because you cannot access walls and floors to clean them. The buildup of dirt and moisture behind immovable 'stuff' over years breaks them down. Now one part of the roof is collapsing, one wall has plants from the yard growing right through it, and several others have mold and terrible stains that will never come out. The house will have to be condemned.
If you have no experience with hoarding - it is a mental illness. It is not as simple as "clean up your stuff." Nobody would choose to live this way, obviously. Nobody would choose to fill a room from floor to ceiling with random objects until the room could not be entered. Nobody would choose to sleep on a pile of trash because there was no other space in the house. It's bizarre and we don't understand it well, but it is well documented and horrible for those who suffer from it and those who love them.
72degrees - How would greed by the insurance company have anything to do with it?
If they are no longer getting premiums paid by you - they are getting LESS MONEY.
Unless there is more to this story. Have you made lots of claims?
The only way greed would be a factor is if your risk or claims exceed your premium payments. Then their "greed" (good business sense) would be a reason to drop you.
When I started watching Hoarders, I was kinda sympathetic to those trying to accept the process and change. But, the more shows I see and especially those with animals involved--I get angry and disgusted. It is a good thing I don't work in that field with those people. I would have them locked in a ward somewhere for life and throw away all their crap.
The ones who are single and own their property--do whatever they want. But, for those who have a spouse, a child, especially those who are impaired physically or mentally--to put that junk and trash over the needs of a family member is truly sick. And those who hoard animals shouldn't be coddled and given days to hum haw around and say I will give two away but I keep these 5...they need all the animals removed and be thrown in jail. How they can get away with the animal cruelty they perform is beyond me. I don't care if they have a mental illness--murderers still face prosecution--so should they.
And for those who have other family living in the home stuck with them and that living condition--they should be charged with negligence, neglect--something. That is flat abuse. A woman was busted hoarding 150 cats and 4 years ago had been busted with 100 cats. Obviously these people cannot be "cured" or treated or anything--they need to be in some type of supervised half-way house where other people are in charge of their living conditions. Clearly, they do not have the capacity to be in charge of themselves or others.
So where are you located ? county state ?? Mendocino CA maybe, or Lake County CA, perhaps...
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