I think they’re on the right track.
The Houston City Council unanimously approved an anti-hoarding ordinance Wednesday without a clear idea of how it will be enforced.
The ordinance, which does not apply to single-family homes, clarifies when police can seek a warrant to enter a home and prioritizes mental health treatment before turning to daily fines of up to $500.
The ordinance does not specify how deep piles of apparent junk must be, nor how long neighbors can be expected to battle insect or rodent infestations while city officials seek treatment of a suspected hoarder and a clean-up of the property.
To a large extent, Mayor Annise Parker said, enforcement will be at the discretion of responding police officers.
Internal policies outlining possible hoarding thresholds, how agencies will coordinate a response and who will have a final say in the decision still must be written.
Council members said they expect the ordinance to reinforce the existing relationship between HPD and the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, who often perform joint welfare checks.
MHMRA Executive Director Stephen Schnee said the agency would complete assessments and recommend treatment, but not be involved in enforcement decisions.
Despite the ordinance, Parker said enforcement by authorities is not her preferred first choice for dealing with hoarders.
“Having the ability to say to a family member, ‘This is against the law. If you don’t do this, if you don’t work on this issue, if you don’t seek the help you need, there will be a police intervention,’ is one more tool that can help resolve the issue,” she said. “The goal is never to write a citation for something like this because we understand it’s a mental health issue, but this gets us in the door.”
See here for the background. For what it’s worth, as someone who was a fan of Hoarders on A&E, in nearly every episode the hoarder in question had to be backed into a corner before agreeing to get help and do some cleanup. Often, this included some kind of threat from local authorities to impose fines or even condemn the property. One gets the impression that this kind of leverage can be very useful to help persuade someone who doesn’t believe he has a problem to do something about the situation at hand. As the story notes, in the past the only legal leverage the city had was if there was a credible complaint about animal abuse. This gives them another way to open the door and assess the condition of the residence, and hopefully connect the person inside with the resources they will need to help them address the problem. I’d like to see the city revisit this in a year or so, and if it’s getting results to see about extending the ordinance to include standalone houses. I think they are pointing in the right direction, and I hope this works. Texpatriate has more.