Junk company manager falls prey to hoarder
A junk removal company manager is urging caution to landlords after a hoarder turned his tidy one-bedroom apartment into a den of garbage, rotting food and human waste in less than two months.
Andrew Sutherland, who works as a public relations manager for 1-800-GOT-JUNK, sublet his 600-square-foot apartment this fall to a man in his 40s for two months, so he could move out and not be stuck paying double rent until his lease expired.
Sutherland said the tenant had "glowing references" and was able to show him a bank statement with a balance of $150,000. The tenant even complimented him on the "design aesthetic" of his sparsely furnished, modern apartment in a heritage walkup in Vancouver's West End.
"He had references. He was willing to pay the two months upfront plus a damage deposit, so really he seemed like the perfect guy," Sutherland told CTV's Steele on Your Side.
Everything was going according to plan until just before New Year's Eve, when the live-in building manager contacted Sutherland to say he hadn't seen or heard from the tenant for more than two weeks.
After repeated failed attempts to contact him by phone or email, Sutherland became worried that the tenant might be ill or in danger, so he went over to check on him.
Sutherland often visits the sets for A&E's ‘Hoarders' television show as part of his job and said he felt prepared for whatever he was going to find inside of his apartment. But it was a different story when he arrived.
"It was worse than I imagined," he said. "I could smell the apartment from the hallway."
What Sutherland found inside his once pristine home on New Year's Day was every landlord's nightmare: rotting food on the floors, overturned junk furniture, a bug infestation and at least a foot-and-a-half of debris covering the floors. The bathroom was no longer working and human excrement was smeared on a hallway wall. Cigarette butts were left to burn out on his wooden mantle.
"It was appalling. If the worst ‘Hoarders' episode is a five, this is a three," he said.
He started the eviction process the very same day.
Not an easy road
The process of evicting a tenant is not an easy one, and Sutherland wanted to play by the rules so there was no way the tenant could come back on him later and claim that he was unfair, or worse, that the tenant would be allowed to stay.
Under B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord can give notice to end a tenancy if health and safety standards are not met by the tenant.
This process can be expedited to allow immediate eviction if the Residential Tenancy Branch deems the damage caused by the tenant is extraordinary.
After issuing multiple posted warnings on the apartment door, Sutherland brought in a four-man team from 1-800-GOT-JUNK to begin removing the mountains of debris cluttering the once-pristine space.
Franchise partner Darryl Arnold could only open the door a foot before it became stuck on an upside-down bookcase, which was covered in another foot of garbage and clothing.
"The sheer amount of stuff for two months that this gentleman has managed to accumulate is shocking," Sutherland said.
"I think if you left this for a year, two years, I don't know if you'd be able to enter the apartment."
The company gave a quote of $1,000 to clean out the space because of the potential for hazardous waste inside. It took them four hours to complete the task.
In Pictures: Inside a hoarder's home
Anything that was considered garbage was thrown away, as was anything deemed to be a street find – things hauled in from outside dumpsters. Soiled clothing and furniture were also removed. The Steele on Your Side crew struggled to breathe as shocking discoveries were made by the cleanup crews, including boxes filled with human excrement under piles of garbage in the living room.
By the end of the day all that was left were two garbage bags full of clothes and a few lamps. There were, however, some strange surprises.
"We found an iPad, a flat-screen monitor and some satellite technology that's obviously expensive," Sutherland said. "So he has money, but also something in his brain where things aren't connecting."
The crew also found extensive damage to the walls and floors, where the tenant decided to get creative and paint eight different shades of gray in different rooms.
The smell of human waste still permeated the suite after a professional cleaner spent 12 hours scrubbing it down.
Sutherland, who has since changed the locks in the suite, will attend a hearing this week with the Residential Tenancy Branch in hopes of having the tenant made responsible for the damages in the apartment. He is not hopeful that the long-absent renter will attend. He has still not contacted Sutherland to have what's left of his possessions returned.
Sutherland is suspicious that the tenant has at least one other apartment somewhere in the city that he is also hoarding in.
"If I were to do this again I would have been more up on visiting him, making sure everything was going well within the apartment so two months later there's no surprise," Sutherland said.
"I can't help but feel like I've been taken for a ride."
Repeated attempts by Steele on Your Side to contact the tenant were unsuccessful. His cell phone number is disconnected.
Watch CTV tonight for a full report from Lynda Steele, and a look into the apartment of a hoarder. And come back tomorrow for a look at how the City of Vancouver deals with problem hoarders…