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Can “Hoarding” be a Criminal Offense?

If you or someone you know is a “hoarder,” criminal charges can be added to the pile of problems created by this challenging mental illness.

The Mayo Clinic defines “hoarding disorder” as:

“a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”

Sometimes, as the Mayo Clinic notes, hoarding includes “keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they can’t care for them properly.”

Hoarding can present serious health and safety problems for individuals living in cramped, filthy, and dangerous conditions. But when the hoarding also effects neighbors and others, it can become a criminal offense. Specifically, excessive hoarding can be charged as a “public nuisance.”

Under California Penal Code 372 and 373a PC, it is a crime to do any of the following:

  • Maintain or commit a “public nuisance;”
  • Willfully fail to perform any legal duty to remove a public nuisance; or
  • Maintain, permit or allow a public nuisance to exist on property that you own or control.

A “public nuisance”  is defined as anything that:

  • Is injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses or an obstruction to the free use of property; and
  • Interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood, or by any considerable number of persons.

In the case of hoarding, if the property owned and occupied by the hoarder is strewn with garbage, furniture, boxes, objects, or other hazards that are visible to the public, it could be deemed a public nuisance. Similarly, if the hoarding has created such unsanitary conditions that the odors from the property are “offensive to the senses” of those in the vicinity, public nuisance charges could be brought against the property owner.

Under either Penal Code 372 or 373a, creating or allowing a public nuisance is a California misdemeanor. Upon conviction, penalties can include:

  • Misdemeanor (summary) probation;
  • Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or
  • A standard misdemeanor fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), plus an additional fine of two hundred dollars ($200).

Hoarding is a serious illness. Those who suffer from it put themselves in danger and need help with their disorder. But hoarding can also be a crime with serious legal consequences. If you or a loved one has been charged with a hoarding offense, please give one of our experiencedcriminal defense attorneys a call today to discuss your situation.

Gerald Schwab, Jr.


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Law Office of Gerald Schwab, Jr.
Fresno Criminal Defense Attorney
5588 N Palm Ave,
Fresno, CA 93704 View Map
Phone: 559.441.1418