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Property Maintenance and the Mentally Ill

September 25th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

One of the greatest sources of satisfaction in my work is helping inspectors achieve observable results, e.g. the roof that gets fixed, the yard that gets cleaned up, finding the right owner to charge.  Consequently, when I have difficulty reaching a goal, I get very frustrated.  I can think of few situations that are more difficult to deal with than when I am dealing with an occupant or owner who appears to be suffering from a mental illness.  All of the normal carrot and stick approaches don’t work, i.e. fines, court orders, contempt of court.  Unfortunately it’s difficult to tell which came first, the illness or the lack of maintenance.  I recognize that many hoarders suffer from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and others are dealing with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.  Rational conversations are not often possible.  Many of these individuals also lack family support, sometimes because their behavior has driven away the very people who could help them.  While neighbors may be sympathetic (unless the person’s behavior has antagonized them as well), there comes a point where the neighbors just want the problem fixed.  Many are willing to help the offender but usually the offender doesn’t want anyone to help them or doesn’t even recognize the problem.  (Again, this may be due to the illness when paranoia is part of it).  I’ve written in the past about my success with hoarders, bringing them into court and working closely on a schedule to bring the property into compliance.  Most hoarders I’ve dealt with though haven’t lost touch with reality. It’s people who are somewhat delusional that are such a challenge. Sometimes the police can help if the person is a danger to his or herself or others but that’s the standard for involuntary commitment in my state and most mentally ill people don’t qualify.  An alternative is a guardianship where a petition is filed with the court asking it to appoint someone to make the day to day decisions for the ill person because he or she is not competent to help his or herself.  However, there has to be someone willing to file the lawsuit and take on the responsibility for the person’s care.  I don’t think we can ignore problem properties by not issuing tickets for violations just because the offender is mentally ill.  A sympathetic inspector who can gain the trust of the offender can get results by closely supervising the person’s progress.  I’ve sometimes seen a person’s mental state improve as the residence looks better.  If anyone out there has a magic solution, I’d love you to share it with my readers.

  1. Jerry
    October 8th, 2010 at 15:37 | #1

    I keep checking to see if anyone has commented on this issue since it’s been posted hoping that some has responded with the “magic solution.” This is an issue that everyone I’ve spoken with in the code enforcement community both cringes at and has a related horror story. Unlike the youth and the elderly there doesn’t seem to be a social work agency – at least in Illinois that I’m aware of – to catch these poor people as they fall through the cracks of society. This is a problem that was being ignored before the economy went down when there was more money in the government coffers. Since the economic crash the plight of the mentally ill seems to have gone completely off the radar.

    If a person makes statements that lead me to believe they are a threat to themselves or other we informed the police. I dealt with someone was obviously depressed and stated they, “just wanted to die.” The ambulance took the person to a local hospital; later transferring the person to a hospital downtown for treatment. This was by no means a solution but at least the person got treatment.

    Linda I want to echo a statement that another reader posted on a previous posting, “thank you for having this blog.” The information on your blog is interesting and relevant.

  2. October 8th, 2010 at 15:47 | #2

    Thanks so much for posting your comment. I too am looking for the magic solution. The economy certainly has made things worse.

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