EXPOSED: Inside the worst hoarder houses in Tasmania
Behind closed doors and sometimes normal front yards can exist houses full of grime, trash and unthinkable filth.
A Mercury investigation has uncovered details of complaints against Tasmania's hoarders and unkept houses, while professional cleaners say fixing the problem involves much more than "a rag and a spray bottle".
Many people might go their entire life without stepping foot inside a hoarder's home, but Disaster Master cleaning service owner Petr Skvaril responds to "at least two or three" inquiries every week for assistance cleaning up after serial accumulators.
He says each clean can cost the owner between $2000 and $10,000.
"Just driving up the street you've got no idea what these houses look like on the inside," he said.
Mr Skvaril, who works alongside wife Odessa and 18 staff, said it also wasn't easy to pick a hoarder from the crowd, describing some of his clientele as "very professional people", including one customer from the North West.
"One young fella had a burst water pipe at his house, so he turned the water off," he explained.
"He started doing number ones and twos in the toilet, then when that filled up he filled the bath and laundry tub up.
"He started filling coke containers up. He'd done this for 12 months.
"No one could pick it - it wasn't until one day he never showed up for work they went and found the house like it was."
Mr Skvaril said the heavy duty cleaning his company undertook required high accreditation, dedication and a thick skin, attending hoarding homes, houses devastated by floods and fires, scenes where injury had occurred, and "death cleans".
Though most customers were new faces, Mr Skvaril said some returned a year or two later.
"The clean doesn't cure the person," he said.
"You haven't fixed them with one clean, hoarding is a symptom of an illness like any other."
Glenorchy Council received a whopping 63 complaints against untidy houses and yards in 2020 alone.
A Glenorchy Council spokeswoman said council officers were not involved in cleaning any of the properties.
"The cost to council falls in relation to officer time, that is time spent investigating and responding to each complaint," she said.
A Derwent Valley Council spokesman said 30 complaints had related to untidy yards and two had related to hoarding in the past year, but for one of the two incidents no action could be taken as it "was found not to be a public health risk".
"The second situation was resolved with council working with them to help address some social service requirements and putting them in touch with required supports."
Clarence City Council receives "on average three to six complaints annually relating to hoarding" and said hoarding presented a health hazard for people living at or near the properties.
"When investigating hoarding complaints, we work with appropriate agencies, including specialist not-for-profit organisations, ensuring that support is available to the person and issues are addressed," a Clarence City Council spokeswoman said.
"We all seek to improve the living conditions of the affected property owner and reduce any health risk to the occupants and neighbouring properties."
Mr Skvaril described his job satisfaction as "immense", but said sometimes people took time to be receptive to help or admit they had a problem.
"You can't force it on people," he said.
"I think the biggest issue is people don't know who to reach out to - it takes a lot of courage."
But he said sometimes, sadly the issue was discovered too late.
"With COVID and elderly parents being separated from family we've had people pass away and (their relatives will) come over and see what's happening, find the house like that and go 'I had no idea mum or dad lived like this, I feel so bad that we never intervened'."
Disaster Master can be reached via 1300 414 597 or disastermaster.com.au
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, call Lifeline Australia for crisis support on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS:
- Brighton Council received 36 complaints last year for untidy houses and yards.
- The Council had to intervene in 23 of those complaints, not including abatement notices for overgrown yards.
- Queenstown Council only issued some three abatements in the past few years related to hoarding, but the area does have one famous house known and admired for a quirky front yard filled with gnome figurines.
- Huonville Council typically received "one or two" complaints per year, usually resolved through a voluntary clean up from the property owner, with the Council occasionally declaring an "unhealthy premises" using the Department of Health Guidelines to enforce a clean.
Originally published as EXPOSED: Inside the worst hoarder houses in Tasmania