A dangerous compulsive disorder spilling out from the doorways and fences of homes around Edmonton has become a high priority for bylaw officials, and is costing offenders more than ever before.

“We’ve all been taught not to waste. People like to hold on to things, but hoarders have an emotional link to their garbage,” Edmonton 1-800-GOT-JUNK owner Jason Seguin said.

A topic popularized by the A&E show Hoarders isn’t limited to the U.S. homes featured on the show, but is an ever-increasing issue to local enforcement officials.

In 2009, the city issued over 700 tickets to owners of unsightly and untidy properties who were warned, but didn’t clean up. Of those, 167 properties were cleaned by city crews after noncompliance. Cleanup bills, ranging between $200 and $20,000, were added to offending homeowners’ property taxes.

Many hoarders, city enforcement spokesman Ryan Pleckaitis said, are repeat offenders. Some have had property forcibly cleared by the city up to 20 times. Though bylaws achieve 90 per cent compliance, he says focus on the problem was recently enhanced to deal with chronic bylaw breakers.

Seguin’s crews are often knee-deep in the dirty little secret. The company has gutted local homes with floor-to-ceiling trash piles, the most severe requiring 28 trucks to haul away.

A 2009 study conducted by the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE) determined the condition predominantly affects elderly women, often as a result of mental illness, or precipitated by loss. SAGE currently counsels hoarders, though its program is at capacity. If funding is approved by the end of January, more will be offered help.

“The sad thing is, hoarders are often embarrassed and don’t have the means to get rid of the problem. We often don’t get to it until the person has passed on,” Seguin said.

“For us to do that job for them is priceless.”