Rotting food, rampant bugs and stinky cat litter — an intoxicating mix? It was for the producers of a television reality show who followed the scent to South Florida for a program about hoarders.
On Wednesday night, "Hoarding: Buried Alive" will air the story of three renters at a Deerfield Beach complex whose apartments were crammed with piles of junk.
"It wasn't fit for a human or even an animal to live in: the smells, odors, the filfth," said Ben, owner of the Praxis Apartments on Southwest 11th Way in Deerfield Beach. "It was a horrible situation."
TLC would not release the last names of the landlord or the hoarders at the 224-unit Praxis, an affordable housing complex for residents over 55.
Ben, who bought the property last spring, discovered three of his tenants were classic hoarders, loathe to throw anything away. He contacted the reality show for help in cleaning out his residents' apartments.
"We really wanted to help these people," Ben said. "They are poor old people, they live on very little a month. They got caught up in the hoarding thing."
There was Fred, a security guard and 10-year tenant who succumbed to TV ads, buying all manner of uneccessary items because it made him "feel good."
"I was insulating myself against people," he said. "I know in my head it's wrong to over-buy or hoard."
Dorothy prowled thrift shops and yard sales, purchasing mounds of goods. "I don't classify myself as a hoarder, I just have a lot of possessions," she said. "My world is lonely, but this is safe for me."
Sandie, who lives on disability, had four cats in a roach-infested apartment piled so high with debris that one could only negotiate the area through narrow paths.
She spent her days wrapped head to toe in a blanket. "I cover my ears because I do not want roaches crawling in my ears," she said. "I've actually gotten one in my mouth."
Ben threatened to evict the three unless they cleared their units of all trash. "That's our last resort," he said. "We didn't want to displace them."
TLC enlisted an Atlanta psychologist and professional organizers to help the three tenants transform their apartments. During filming in September, trash was thrown from windows, lugged out by workers and sorted on the complex's lawn. The hoarders were sometimes bitter to see all they had accumulated unceremoniously slung into trash bins.
"I went through a very traumatic time with this," said Sandie, 69. "Some things got discarded that never should have been discarded," including a broken purple bike the 315-pound woman had never ridden.
Now Fred has a new apartment that stays wide open and uncluttered. "He's living great right now," Ben said.
Dorothy moved into a mobile home, and made a new start with somewhat fewer items. "She at least initially went into the mobile home with not too much stuff," said the landlord.
Sandie acknowledged she needed help to curb her hoarding urge, and still labors to keep her space clear. She cleans her cat litter twice a day, but books are still stacked on the floor, clothes reside in boxes, and her dining room table is still laden with clutter.
And she still shares the unit with unwanted companions. "I see at least one or two roaches every day," she said. "There are roaches right now on my cabinet behind my coffee pot."
But the apartment is far less cramped than it was six months ago. "I can certainly get around in it," she said. "I have more room, life is better and I feel better about me."
Ben is happy to have his property, and his tenants, under control.
"We changed these people's lives," he said. "They're stabilized, and we keep an eye on them."
"Hoarding: Buried Alive" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST on TLC. Check cable listings for channels.
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