Legislative Measures Needed to Deal with Garbage-Filled Residences

“Hoarding houses” — residences that dwellers have filled with excessive amounts of garbage — are detrimental to the local environment and cause problems with neighbors. The government should urgently establish legislation to address this problem, rather than leaving the matter to local governments.

According to the first survey conducted on this issue by the Environment Ministry, 5,224 hoarding houses have been identified by local governments across the nation over the past five years. Tokyo had the most with 880, followed by Aichi Prefecture with 538 and Chiba Prefecture with 341.

Kochi and Mie prefectures also had more than 200 cases, and about 40% of local governments said they had a hoarding house problem. This has now become a national concern.

If such houses are left as is, foul odors and pest-related problems can arise, and the risk of fire increases. However, local governments have been able to remove the garbage through such measures as instructions to the dwellers in only about half of the cases.

Hoarding houses often result from such factors as people being unable to clean up their garbage due to aging and illness, even though they recognize they have garbage, as well as residents having impaired judgment due to dementia. It is said that elderly people who have lost family members sometimes become isolated in the community and refuse assistance from local authorities.

Local governments’ waste management departments, their welfare departments and local residents need to work together to help these people.

Even more serious, however, are cases in which residents assert that the garbage is their “assets” and refuse to be persuaded.

There is no law that directly addresses the problem of hoarding houses. For this reason, some local governments have established ordinances that outline such matters as procedures and penalties, allowing the forced removal of garbage through administrative subrogation.

However, there are very few cases in which these ordinances are enforced. Local governments tend to be reluctant to take forcible measures, and doing so involves time and such efforts as consulting with a panel of experts.

Even if garbage can be removed, it is not a fundamental solution if the dwellers repeat the same behavior. There are clearly limits to what local governments can do alone.

With the graying of the population and the increase in elderly people living alone, it is inevitable that the issue of hoarding houses will continue to grow. Given the seriousness of the problem, the central government’s response has been conspicuously slow.

If the government is stuck in a system of bureaucratic sectionalism — with the Environment Ministry responsible for waste disposal and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry responsible for providing welfare support, for example — it will not be able to fully ascertain the situation in each area and the need of local governments. Providing appropriate support will also be impossible.

The central government needs to set forth a clear policy on how to deal with hoarding houses. The Waste Management and Public Cleansing Law and other related laws should be revised so that effective measures can be taken against especially serious cases that pose a threat to the daily lives of neighboring residents.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 29, 2023)