Authorities in Las Vegas call it “one of the worst cases of hoarding ever seen.”
Kenneth Epstein, 55, lives in a duplex in the Sun City Summerlin Retirement Community he inherited from his mother when she died in 2010.
The home has been cited by code enforcement seven times since 2007, and Las Vegas city spokesman David Riggleman says the problem has only escalated since his mother’s death.
“We started to get complaints about the property that went back for a few year,” Riggleman said. “A cycle where Epstein would be out of compliance, things you could see from the street. Code enforcement would go there, and he’d fix the problem. And then time would pass, and more problems.
“But a couple years back his mother passed away, and when she died, the problem seemed to really escalate. The complaints mounted to the extent that reports of foul spells, putrid odors were going on. So we finally realized the problem has escalated to the point where Mr. Epstein wasn’t just ignoring the city codes, he was someone that appeared to have a pretty serious problem.”
Riggleman offered several reasons why city officials describe Epstein’s home as one of the most extreme cases of hoarding they’ve ever seen.
“We got into the house, and we came upon a scene that even people who had experience with hoarding, had never experienced a situation like this. The materials in his house were stacked all the way from floor to ceiling,” Riggleman said. “Most hoarders will leave pathways. But he had things stacked up so high, the only way he could move through the house was to crawl on top of it. He had crawl spaces up top, and that’s how he got around the home.”
Most of Epstein’s belongings were contaminated with cockroaches, bed bugs and spiders.
Epstein could not be reached for comment.
Since Thursday, when a search-and-abatement warrant was issued to get into the house, 22 truck loads of items have been removed from Epstein’s home by code-enforcement officials, a fire prevention team, animal control experts and mental-health workers.
As of today, Riggleman said the junk-removal company has only finished clearing 60 percent of the home. Officials have already removed nine dead cats, 33 living cats and six refrigerators of food decaying so badly the meat had liquefied.
“We need to get him emotion help,” Riggleman said. “He’s got an emotional issue. It’s an obsessive compulsive disorder that in his case is very extreme. Mental health workers say he doesn’t need to be committed. He’s not a danger to himself or anyone else, but he has an obsessive compulsive disorder that’s manifested.”
City Councilman Stavros Anthony understood the urgency of the situation on his hands, but knew he had to approach Epstein’s case delicately.
“We want to get this person in compliance with code, but also show a little compassion for the man,” Anthony said. “I went out there to talk with the gentleman, and I could tell this gentleman needed some help. It looked a lot bigger than what people thought. I told him I wanted to help him. He looked at me and said, ‘You know what, that’s the first person that’s ever said that.’ He’s complying because he knows we’re going to help.”
When asked when the clean-up might eventually be finished, Riggleman said, “We’ve stopped trying to estimate, because we’ve been wrong every time, with the amount of stuff in the house. It’s been an experience. We’re just going to work until the work is done.”