Approximately 5% of the global population are classified as home hoarders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That statistic is similar in the U.S., where estimates peg the total number of hoarders at 14 million.
No doubt, hoarders can face many challenges, including mental illness issues and financial problems from spending too much on what they stockpile. One additional financial problem linked to household hoarding is the potential to lose your homeowners insurance.
In general, insurance companies don't send investigators to your home to gauge risk before issuing a homeowner's insurance policy. Yet with hoarding causing potentially hazardous safety issues in the home -- such as a higher risk of fires from flammable clutter, injuries from tripping over boxes and junk, and biohazards linked to trash and animal infestations -- insurers are starting to wake up to this issue.
That heightened risk, and additional scrutiny from insurance companies, can lead to big problems for families with an avid hoarder, says Loretta Worters, vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based Insurance Information Institute.
To be profitable, insurance companies must manage risk. Consequently, expect more insurance companies to visit homes to weigh the risks of clogged hallways, excessive flammable materials, and attics groaning under the weight of boxes, books, and other bric-a-brac.
Claim investigators who visit a cluttered home with ample evidence of hoarding, may recommend that the homeowner's insurance company deny a claim or drop the policy at renewal. Investigators can also pass along evidence of household hoarding to the insurance agent or company, who may decide to renew the policy, but only at a much higher rate.
7 Warning Signs of Hoarding That Could Cost You Your Homeowners Insurance Policy
These 7 warning signs may indicate that your home is at risk of having a disaster, being hazardous to guests, or putting your homeowners coverage in danger:
- Items that could cause a resident or guest to trip or fall in or outside your home.
- Clutter that blocks a path to safety in the event of an emergency.
- An abundance of paper piles, plastic, and flammable materials that can trigger a house fire.
- Animal or plant waste that causes odors and contamination.
- Accumulated bric-a-brac that could delay repairs to flooring, roof, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems.
- Junk or clutter that hides signs of home damage, such as water leaks or mold, that can destroy your home.
- Clutter that blocks or limits healthy home ventilation, boosts moisture retention and microbe growth, and encourages pest, rodent and insect infestations.
5 Tips to Protect Your Homeowners Insurance Policy
Don't wait for a visit from your insurance company to correct a household hoarding issue. Here are 5 tips to protect your homeowners insurance coverage:
Tip #1: Take a complete home inventory of your personal belongings, and categorize what clutter needs to go. Ideally, don't let the household hoarder make that decision -- leave it to a trusted friend or family member.
Tip #2: Hire a clean-up company that specializes in sprucing up hoard-heavy homes. Cleaning firms like California-based Clutter & Hoarding Pros will provide an in-home assessment, give you a cost and time estimate and rid the home of dangerous clutter in a private, sensitive manner.
Tip #3: Protect yourself with safety equipment and gear, such as disposable gloves, breathable dust masks, and goggles to stay clear of dust, mold and other health hazards. If it's a heavy-duty job, wear work boots and a hard hat in the event of falling items and other hazards. Also have a flashlight and first-aid kit handy.
Tip #4: Make sure you have a fire extinguisher on hand to stop any flammable material fires, and bring insect and pest repellent in case you run to any undesirable bugs or rodents exposed by your clean up efforts.
Tip #5: Have a dumpster on site to handle the heavy load of boxes, crates, and junk you'll get rid of. Also, bring along cleaning supplies, a good broom, a vacuum cleaner and a well-stocked tool box.
When you're done, not only will you feel your spirits lift when seeing a more sparse and freshly-cleaned home, you'll also keep your homeowners insurance policy and rate in good standing.