In this case before me as a Small Claims Court arbitrator, the plaintiff (I will here call him “Howard”) is claiming that the defendant’s workers stole personal belongings from his home worth $5,000.
Howard is an elderly man. He lives alone and has been retired for many years. He spends much of his waking time searching for and collecting small objects (beer steins, plaques, plates, and etc.) for his growing collection.
Howard confessed that he is a hoarder. “It is my obsession”, he said.
He finds objects for his collection in flea markets, yard sales, small auctions and the like. He keeps everything he buys, including the packaging and boxes. His small apartment was filled with knick knacks, pictures, clothing, dishes, newspapers, books, boxes and bags. He throws nothing away and keeps pizza boxes, food delivery bags, etc, as he rarely cooks for himself.
Howard’s apartment was very cluttered. He had a narrow path to his rooms, in between the piles of stuff on either side.
Howard recently saw a newspaper ad for “Clean My House” (not its real name), a house cleaning service. They agreed to reduce the clutter in his home, sort and organize his things by category, put them in boxes or bags, and then clean the apartment completely.
Clean My House claimed to specialize in severe hoarder cases. They said they had wide experience in de-cluttering homes and offices.
Howard called Clean My House for an estimate. They said that the job would require two full business days and three workmen per day to sort through, organize, put all of his belongings in boxes, to be followed up by the cleanup of the entire apartment.
Clean My House asked for $2,500 for their services, including labor, materials and supplies. Howard agreed and signed their letter of agreement.
Over two days, Clean My House organized Howard’s belongings, stored them in boxes and then bagged the trash in black plastic bags.
Howard was pleased with their work and was very grateful, until he noticed the chief workman (I here call him “Sam”) loading several plastic trash bags into the elevator.
The bags were all tied closed, which made Howard suspicious, he said.
Howard decided to accompany Sam to the basement, where they met the building’s superintendent who flatly refused to accept the bags, saying that they violated New York City’s re-cycling laws concerning separation of certain types of garbage.
After arguing with the super, Sam declared to Howard that he would take all of the trash bags home.
Howard became even more suspicious.
Howard then returned to his apartment. He first noted that he could not find one of his favorite beer steins. He tried to open one of the boxes which lined the walls of his small apartment to look for it, but found it was too full.
He then told me that he could not find several other items like his attaché case, his watch, and certain items of clothing etc. He said that he was convinced that the large trash bags contained several personal items belonging to him.
Howard did not try to look further into any of the other boxes in his apartment. He did not recall what he paid for any of the missing belongings.
To see my decision, click on the link below – Decision