Hoarders Kicked Out Of Their Home; Bizarre Materials Discovered Inside
A judge declared a Northbrook home unfit for habitation and ordered its residents to clean up by Friday.
Piles of garbage bags, clothes, boxes, dolls still in their packaging and a dusty guitar case stretch from floor to ceiling inside one Northbrook residence. A table saw rests on the bed, and the home is so packed with debris you can’t open the front door.
“Imagine if you never threw away anything that came into your possession, whether it was ice cream containers or mail or Taco Bell bags—you just kept it,” said Tom Poupard, director of development and planning services for the village of Northbrook.
A judge has ordered one Northbrook couple in their 70s to clean up their home by noon on Friday, after neighbors complained of an odor and debris spilling out into the front yard.
But a man and woman who identified themselves as residents of the home Thursday said they feel the village is overstepping its bounds.
Wearing a scarf around her head and a floral blouse, the woman sat in front of the ranch house in a station wagon with wood paneling. Boxes filled the trunk. The man stood nearby, chatting with a next-door neighbor over the property line. Nearby on the lawn, their beagle and pug mix sat resting beneath a tree. Mosquitoes swarmed from the back of their property.
The couple, who declined to be identified, were reportedly living out of their car, and are now staying at a hotel nearby after a judge declared their home uninhabitable.
“It’s a hell of a way to live, not knowing where you’re going to be,” he said.
Village Has Already Cleaned Up Home Once
Residents first brought the couple to the village’s attention more than a decade ago, and the village has been dealing with the situation ever since, according to Poupard. Northbrook already sent one cleanup crew into the house last year, after the couple failed to meet a previous court order to clean up, and removed three dumpsters of stuff.
“It gets cleaned up and comes back, then it gets cleaned up and comes back,” Poupard said. “It seems to get cleaned up and then it gets worse.”
But the man said he feels like the village has stolen his belongings.
“It’s not just stuff. It’s stuff that we’ve accrued over a lifetime,” he said.
After several neighbors complained about debris piling up outside the home again and an unpleasant odor, a judge granted the village a search order on July 8.
“We had reason to believe that there was not operable plumbing inside the house,” Poupard said. “There were reports from neighbors that they were smelling stuff on the outside.”
Neighbors also reported that the couple was sleeping in their car, presumably because there was no room in the house.
On July 20, Poupard went into the home with a consultant from Restoration Techs, a company that deals with large-scale and emergency cleanups. Both wore “hazmat” suits, at the suggestion of the consultant, and entered through the garage—the only accessible entrance to the home, as the front door was blocked by debris. In his property inspection report, Poupard detailed 23 different code violations, including evidence of human waste, rodent droppings and several broken windows.
According to Poupard, there were belongings and garbage piled from floor to ceiling in the home, obstructing windows, ventilation ducts and all but one electrical outlet. A less than two-foot wide path allowed some access to rooms, but bathrooms were entirely filled with stuff, he said. Even the refrigerator, dishwasher and oven were filled with stuff.
On July 27, a judge issued an order determining that the property was “unfit for human occupancy,” then issued a second order July 29 giving the couple until noon on Friday to clean up the exterior debris. If that deadline is not met, the village will hire a cleanup company to do it and bill the couple, according to Poupard.
“We just didn’t want to have a situation where you’re telling somebody they can’t live in their house,” Poupard said.
Couple Feels Homeless; Say It's Not Just 'Stuff'
Although they have a roof over their head for now, the man said the uncertainty is stressful. The couple have lived in Northbrook for 30 years, and both grew up in Evanston by the lake, they said. They moved here because of their dogs, and chose their current house because of the woods behind the property. But, they said, Northbrook has never felt like home.
“We never really considered this home, that’s part of the problem,” the man said. “Home is where there’s a community.”
But Northbrook isn’t such a place, he said. In his opinion, the town doesn’t tolerate diversity and his neighborhood is a “neighborhood of transients.”
Asked where he would like to live, the man said he’d have to think about it.
“Almost any place would be better,” he said.
The man and woman say their home is full of antique musical instruments, books, sculpture and art. Before the village hired a company to clear out their home last year, the man said he even had posters from women’s suffrage marches.
“They literally stole thousands and thousands of dollars worth of stuff,” he said. “These doofuses here wouldn’t know a Japanese wood block print from a bucket.”
The most recent cleanup of the home cost the village $8-$9,000, according to Poupard, which was billed to the couple. They still have not repaid the village, he said.
In the week since the judge ordered the couple to clean up the outside of their home, Poupard said they have made some minimal progress.
“It’s a tough situation,” he said. “We recognize this is not a mean-spirited thing they’re doing…but they seem to really have a difficult time separating themselves from their stuff.”
Some time after noon on Friday, Poupard said he would go back to the home to assess the situation.
Just hours before the deadline, the man said they didn’t have much time to talk, since they knew they had to clean up. It wasn’t easy, though, he said.
“We’re 72 years old and they’re bludgeoning us to death,” he said. “This is not what I had in mind for my eighth decade.”