Homeowner's Insurance at Risk for Hoarding Chicago Couple?

HoardingWhat's the difference between the Jonas Brothers getting stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes and an elderly couple being trapped under heaps of garbage in their own home for two weeks? One of those scenarios has potential ramifications for homeowner's insurance, while the other causes the hearts of some teen-age girls to skip a beat.

Thelma Gaston, 79, and her husband Jesse, 76, were rescued on Monday from their South Side home, which was filled with enough debris to trap the couple for as long as two weeks. Besides reminding people about the dangers of hoarding, the story serves as a cautionary tale for homeowners whose houses are qualified to be featured on "Clean House" or "Hoarding: Buried Alive."

"Hoarding is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them," according to Mayo Clinic. "Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter... Hoarding, also called compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome, can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)."

It turns out that hoarding isn't just a really bad habit that could be a sign of bigger issues -- it could be bad news for a hoarder's homeowner's insurance.

Although insurers probably won't find out about hoarding issues until a claim is filed, and while the "claim would be paid according to contract," things could get stickier after that, according to a story on WalletPop.

"In severe cases, the insurance company may cancel your homeowner's coverage, and in other cases, they may raise your cost because of the increased risk of hoarding."

The risks listed in the article are: 1) the risk posed to your friends, who could trip over your things and file a claim; 2) the increased fire risk, thanks to the trash and flammable items lying on the ground; and 3) the tendency for hoarders to disregard basic maintenance tasks.

A blog post at The Insurance Expert echoes these sentiments virtually verbatim, but adds that insurers' options for recourse depend on the state they're in. While some will allow them to cancel policies immediately, others require the insurer to wait until the term is up.

However, Joe Schneider, an Allstate agency owner in Chicago, doesn't really see much of a connection between hoarding and homeowner's insurance. "As far as the insurance company is concerned, if it's a covered loss, it's a covered loss," he said. "It's kind of a boring answer, but it's the truth."

Schneider, who had seen an eviction case for hoarding renters in Virginia when he was a claims adjuster, added that he thought the Gastons' case was "kind of a sad situation." He saw hoarding as "more of a personal way of life" than an issue related to homeowner's insurance.

Neighbors had filed complaints about the couple's well-being, as well as the unkempt appearance of the Gastons' house, located in the 1500 block of East 69th Street. After Thelma Gaston fell through the small mountain of possessions, Jesse also got trapped when he attempted to save her.

A Cook County Circuit Court judge gave the go-ahead to city officials to start the cleanup process of the two-flat, which is scheduled to begin today and expected to take about 10 days. The Cook County Public Guardian's Office will look into whether the county should take custody of the couple.

See homes for sale in Chicago at AOL Real Estate.

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