Fairfax County warns against dangers of hoarding, offers resources for those affected

A Fairfax County, Virginia, agency has put out a warning on the dangers of hoarding.

It’s not a problem in every neighborhood. But where hoarding exists, it’s a threat to the health and safety of the hoarder, family members and in the case of town houses and apartments, the neighbors.

That’s the warning being put out by the county’s Department of Code Compliance, which answers 40 to 50 hoarding complaints a year.

“All counties have this problem … and so everyone is tackling the problem,” said Rachael Perrot, the department’s supervisor and co-chair of the Fairfax County Hoarding Committee. “Folks can put themselves in extremely dangerous situations and not be aware of it.”

The Fairfax County government put out this image of a house where hoarding conditions have taken place. (Courtesy Fairfax County)

Complaints come into the agency from family members, neighbors, police or fire departments, or another county agency.

“Our biggest goal is life safety and health and safety, not only of the person living there, but anyone living around them,” Perrot said.

When a complaint is filed, an inspection of the premises follows.

“What we’re mostly concerned with is egress. How fast can they get out in case of a fire? Can they get out in case of fire at all? Are their windows and doors blocked? Are their aisle ways clear? Do they have a large pile of combustibles?”

Inspectors first look to see if there’s an imminent danger: Have the collected materials — which could include newspapers, trash and clothing — created a dangerous weight on the structure of the home or a potentially serious fire hazard?

When problems are identified by an inspection, they are explained to the resident in writing by the Code Compliance department, and the resident is given a timeline to fix things.

“We have a great track record with compliance. Once they identify that they put themselves in danger, a lot of folks are really willing to take the steps necessary,” Perrot said. “Other times we get family members involved … or even neighbors who can come over to help.”

Perrot recommends that family members or neighbors report hoarding conditions.

“By allowing them to live in that structure the way it is, you’re allowing them to live in danger … so my best advice is to get the help they need, whether that’s by calling a county entity or maybe by just starting to have a conversation … my biggest advice is please just don’t turn away from the folks that need you the most,” she said.

People who have a hoarding problem should consider their circumstances and not be afraid to reach out.

“Don’t think you can handle it all on your own. There’s lots of folks and resources out there to help,” Perrot said.

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