City of Houston may start fining hoarders

HOUSTON

City leaders say this ordinance is kind of a tough balancing act. They want to ensure the safety of residents inside their homes, but how do you that without criminalizing a mental illness?

Piles of garbage stacked up and animals living in unsanitary conditions, hoarding is a disorder psychiatrists estimate affects close to a million Americans.

"If you walk in, it literally looks like a tidal wave has struck the house -- clothes hanging on the banister, garbage up and down the stairs, pots and pans from weeks and weeks," said Dr. Richard Pesikoff with Baylor College of Medicine.

Just imagine living next door to a hoarder. There may be dangerous but invisible health hazards, like odors and disease coming into your home.

But currently, Houston police can only intervene if the problem is visible from outside the home.

"The goal is to provide a mechanism for public safety professionals and/or mental health professionals to make an intervention," Mayor Annise Parker said.

Houston city councilmembers are considering an ordinance that would allow officers to issue hoarders $200 tickets for every day the situation causes health or safety hazards to neighbors.

Police would also be required to consult with mental health professionals and offer treatment options when issuing tickets.

"We really don't want the $200, we really don't want to hurt these people financially. But sometimes the only way you have any leverage is to force people to do these kinds of things," Dr. Pesikoff said.

This proposed oridnance would apply only to buildings with shared rooms, like apartments and condominiums. Council is expected to discuss it further during its next meeting.

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