A Surrey, B.C., woman who admits she's a compulsive hoarder says B.C. Housing is evicting her because of her compulsion, and she has nowhere else to go.

Sandy Lupton said the subsidized housing provider has given her until the end of the month to clear out and her only option will be to move into a shelter.

"I've had this hoarding problem for many years," Lupton said.

Along with her hoarding problem came a bug problem — cockroaches and bedbugs in everything she owned.

Help for hoarders

"Hoarding is about the excessive accumulation and the failure to discard," Elaine Birchall of the Ottawa Community Response to Hoarding Coalition told CBC Radio's Markus Schwabe.

Hoarding is often, but not always, a mental illness, explains Birchall, one of Canada's leading experts in the field. It's not clear what causes hoarding, she adds.

There is often a genetic component, and another mental problem such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder makes it worse, Birchall says.

"Hoarding doesn't happen in isolation," she says. "It isn't just about the stuff. It's about what else in your life is and isn't working."

As a hoarding intervention specialist, Birchall tries to help people "change their relationship to the things that they are keeping so that their primary relationship, their primary source of joy and reinforcement, isn't things."

The key is "to get people help for the underlying reasons that they hoard, otherwise they'll just repeat it and have just the worst sense of failure and hopelessness," according to Birchall.

Last fall, building officials threw out virtually all of her belongings and fumigated her suite, Lupton said.

"They said everything was so contaminated that they had to do that."

2nd chance to stay clean

B.C. Housing gave Lupton another chance, allowing her to move back in, but inspected her suite weekly.

But she couldn't stop hoarding, and she ran into trouble again in June.

"I had an inspection coming up, first of June. I procrastinated cleaning up my place. It was a total disaster," she said.

B.C. Housing gave her two months notice to move, she said.

Officials with B.C. Housing said they could not discuss Lupton's case for privacy reasons, but said hoarding attracts pests and creates fire hazards, not only for the tenant, but also for neighbours.

B.C. Housing attempts to work with tenants with hoarding problems by helping them establish goals and conducting weekly followups and help disposing of goods, officials said.

Tenants are only evicted as a last resort, and like all landlords, B.C. Housing must follow the legislated process outlined in the Residential Tenancy Act, they said.

B.C. Housing is a Crown agency mandated by the provincial government to provide housing to those in need.

With files from CBC Radio's Ben Hadaway and Markus Schwabe