Hawaii Legislature Passes Bill to Make Hoarding a Crime, But is the Law Strong Enough?

Update May 6, 2008: The Hawaii legislature has passed Senate Bill 3203, making hoarding a crime. In the final version, anyone with 20 or more dogs or cats or a combination, can be guilty of a misdemeanor if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

 (1)  Fails to provide necessary sustenance for each dog or cat; and

 (2)  Fails to correct the conditions under which the dogs or cats are living, where conditions injurious to the dogs’, cats’, or owner’s health and well-being result from the person’s failure to provide necessary sustenance.

The bill has been sent to Governor Linda Lingle for signature. For more on this bill and hoarding, read Animal Law Coalition’s original report below.

Original report: If Hawaii Senate Bill 3203 passes and becomes law, Hawaii will be the second state besides Illinois to make animal hoarding a crime.

It is important that states and local governments begin to recognize hoarding as a separate offense. Typically, if they are prosecuted at all, these hoarders are charged with animal cruelty laws. Many times the conduct does not really fit animal cruelty laws.

Hoarding has been described as a chronic mental illness that progresses over time. It is basically a pathological desire to acquire animals and control them. Hoarding is not only characterized by horrific animal cruelty, it destroys families and organizations and presents a serious health problem in every community. The existence of a hoarder is usually not discovered until neighbors complain to authorities about unsanitary conditions, odor, large numbers of animals, and starving and sick or injured animals. By then, the condition is usually severe and the animals are suffering terribly. It is generally left to the community to develop the plans and bear the expense for rescuing, caring for, treating, sheltering, and placing what maybe dozens and dozens of animals and euthanizing those that will not survive. 

As an example, in 2002 a Maui couple was charged with 85 counts of animal cruelty. Authorities found nearly 100 dogs and cats in filthy, deplorable conditions in their home. Animals were kept in pens in every room; cats were held in kitchen cabinets. It was described as a "dungeon of horrors". The floors were covered in feces and urine.

Only seven of the animals survived.

This came after a neighbor filed numerous complaints with police, animal control officers, county prosecutors and the Department of Health, all to no avail.

The owner claimed all of the animals were well cared for and loved. 

The husband was acquitted of all counts of animal cruelty. The prosecution dropped 65 of the 85 counts of animal cruelty against the wife, and she pleaded no contest to the remaining charges. Her attorney spoke much during sentencing about how she loved these animals. For all of the cruelty and suffering endured by the animals, the wife was sentenced to 30 days in jail. She was allowed to keep several animals though the judge in that case did order her to undergo a mental health evaluation and submit to inspections by the humane society at least during the year probation following her jail time. Nothing in the law required the judge to issue even these limited orders, however.  

Clearly, animal cruelty laws do not necessarily provide the authority necessary for the community to deal with a hoarder. Many times these laws do not require mental health evaluations and treatment, bans on owning or keeping any animals in the future or periodic inspections of the hoarder’s property. It is when a court must issue these requirements that law enforcement, animal control and other officials can hope to stop the hoarder from re-offending.  

The problem with this bill is that it simply makes hoarding a crime. While it is helpful, to recognize the unique attributes of this condition as a separate crime, there is nothing in the bill or Hawaii law that enables the community to stop the hoarder from re-offending.

Hawaii law, HRS § 711-1109.1, does allow authorities to enter onto property with a search warrant and impound animals suffering from abuse or neglect. These is a Hawaii statute that provides for forfeiture of the animals prior to the disposition of criminal charges. HRS § 711-1110.5  

Hoarding conditionsBut there is nothing in the bill that would indicate these statutes would apply specifically to a suspected hoarder.  There is nothing in the bill that would require a court to order a hoarder to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment, issue a ban on owning, keeping or living with animals; or allow periodic inspections of his or her premises. 


This bill was introduced by Sen. Brian T. Taniguchi . It would have been helpful to add provisions to S.B. 3203 that would have given law enforcement and animal control the tools to stop hoarders: require judges to order mental health evaluations and treatment, bans on owning, keeping or living with animals and  periodic inspections of the hoarder’s property by police, animal control or the health department.

For more on hoarding, click on Downloads on the right on this page to get a copy of Animal Law Coalition’s Hoarding Fact Sheet.  

2 thoughts on “Hawaii Legislature Passes Bill to Make Hoarding a Crime, But is the Law Strong Enough?”

  1. hoarding is a mental illness not a crime
    the people need help not punishment
    anyone who studies this understands the real issues
    how terrible that Hawaii might end up criminalizing a mental illness

  2. I was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against an animal hoarder. For seven years the defendant deprived my neighbors and me of peaceful enjoyment of our properties, which we’re entitled to by law. Because our state has no hoarding law, we sued successfully under the public nuisance statute. The hoarder’s hundreds of animals were removed to good homes, so the animals as well as the neighbors won.

    Hoarding is both a crime and a mental illness. Typically a hoarder is not so impaired as to not know the difference between right and wrong; therefore, s/he needs both help and punishment.

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