Unsafe Living Conditions

Facts about Unsafe Living Conditions

  • Knowing the conditions that experts deem as unsafe in a residence can save saves lives and protects neighborhoods.

  • Reporting unsafe living conditions to Property Code Enforcement when you see them can only help the situation.

  • Unsafe living conditions that need to be reported to the property code enforcement team also includes homes with clear maintenance issues that cause hazards. Examples include:

      • Gas leaks


      • Utilities or appliances that have not worked for some time.


      • No running hot or cold water.


      • Damage to foundations, decks, stairways, joists, or other key structures


  • Extremely unsafe living conditions in homes can create a serious hazard for both the resident and others who enter the home.
    • Severe cases are very complex, and often involve some form of mental illness.

    • Firefighters or rescue workers lose precious time to save lives when unsafe living conditions and behaviors get in the way.

    • In fact, while 1% of residential fires are caused by unsafe living conditions in the U.S., 25% of all fire-related deaths are cases where blocked egress, excessive storage, and other unsafe conditions were occurring in the home.

  • The bottom line is that it is unsafe for a resident, visitors and emergency personnel when a residence:
    • does not have at least 3 feet of pathway allowing free access throughout the house,
    • does not have proper emergency exits or safe access to all rooms of the house for first responders, 
    • does have piles of items so heavy that floor joists are stressed,
    • does have windows or exit doors that are blocked by furniture or stored items.

What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is the excessive collection and retention of things or animals until these things interfere with day-to-day functions such as home, health, family, work and social life.

Hoarding is a multi-faceted problem that has psychological, physical welfare and public safety implications.

Severe hoarding cases pose a risk not only to the hoarder and his or her family, but also to emergency personnel and others who may have to enter the home.

Key parts of a home (such as kitchens or bathrooms) can be rendered inoperable by severe hoarding behavior. An accumulation of grease, food items and trash greatly increases the potential for a fire and encourages rodent and insect infestation.

Hoarding can also cause structural overload in effected homes. An accumulation of newspapers, boxes, magazines, etc. can lead to severe overstressing of structural members such as joists and beams. A room with stacked newspapers can cause floor systems to sag, crack or even collapse.

Those who become animal hoarders endanger themselves, their families and their neighbors; and it often leads to severe and unintended animal cruelty.

While Neighborhood Services can address hoarding by focusing on the structural and property integrity of the hoarder's residence, we also reach out to other agencies and organizations when appropriate to help find broader solutions to this behavior. 


What is the Role of Neighborhood Services in Unsafe Living Conditions and Hoarding Cases

Through identification of potential hoarding cases where residents are putting themselves and others at risk, Neighborhood Services can help begin addressing the problem and begin building solutions. Often this requires enforcement actions brought by Property Code Enforcement (PCE) inspectors and regular follow up as the situation is abated. Sometimes the inspectors are able to intervene with the hoarder to counsel them on abatement of the hoarding conditions before enforcement becomes necessary.

But Neighborhood Services’ enforcement actions for blighted properties, unsafe structures and structures unfit for human occupancy deals only with problems with the structure itself. When a hoarding case is brought to us, Neighborhood Services also reaches out to other local or state agencies to provide assistance for hoarders who become displaced while the home is rendered safe. Other agencies are sometimes able to provide or arrange for ongoing counseling and therapy, transportation, emergency supplies, temporary meals and lodging, temporary financial assistance and temporary medical care, as well.

For more information on hoarding and what Neighborhood Services can do if you suspect a hoarding situation in your neighborhood, call us at 703-792-7018 or email us at nsd@pwcgov.org.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hoarding