Claims of filth may force condo owner from unit

AP News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2011 6:51 PM
Claims of filth may force condo owner from unit

Managers of an upscale condominium tower say they couldn't get rid of an overwhelming stench that had residents complaining frequently. They decided to go to court, instead, seeking to get rid of the condo owner.

The homeowners association for Nashville's Windsor Towers filed suit and won its case in trial court after describing, with records presented in court, what they characterized as filth and hoarding in the owner's first-floor unit. Their documents described books, clothes, papers and other belongings piled everywhere and a refrigerator so stuffed with food the door wouldn't close.

Owner Stacy Harris, a 59-year-old writer who produces a website focused on Nashville's music industry, denied she is a hoarder and vowed to keep fighting in court. She may soon be forced out by court order.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court's decision to force the sale of her unit and use the proceeds to pay for more than $116,000 in legal fees to go to her homeowners' association.

The decision stems from a legal battle with the association that has tried repeatedly to get Harris to either clean up or get out. The condo was thoroughly cleaned out in the fall of 2008, according to court records, which said the unit had declined into a state of filth a year later.

Harris, who has lived at the condo for 35 years, vigorously denies being a hoarder. She said she is hoping to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

"Well, I have to. This is my home, this is not an apartment," she said.

Management and the homeowners association declined to speak with The Associated Press. Neighbors reached for comment also declined.

Harris said the homeowners association has a vendetta against her because she sued them years ago.

She said she couldn't smell anything coming from her apartment and told The AP on Wednesday that she wondered why, if the association considered her a hoarder, it hadn't contacted health authorities before. She added that the homeowners association hasn't treated anyone else as she has been treated.

Court records show that an apartment manager who went to the unit in the fall of 2008 said the odor inside was so overpowering that it made her eyes water and she had to fight not to gag.

A supervisor at a local bio-hazard cleaning company testified that Harris lived in a "gross filth and hoarder situation." The cleaning company said it filled and emptied a commercial-size trash bin three times with waste and debris from the unit.

The condo manager, according to court records, helped Harris do her laundry and neighbors brought her food and paid for her to stay in a hotel during the cleanup.

But court records say that a year later the association reported the condo was as filthy as it had been before the bio-hazard company scrubbed the unit and that Harris had rejected calls for another cleaning.

That's when the homeowners association took Harris to court.

Randy Frost, a psychologist and co-author of the book "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things," said that having others clean out a house doesn't produce lasting effects and can be traumatic for the owner.

He said it's rare that people actually have to leave their homes in such situations, but "people are forced out occasionally."