Trash piled to the ceilings, pets running amok with no one to clean up after them – even feces in the sink: These aren’t scenes from the down-and-out, but from some of New York’s priciest real estate, where hoarding doesn’t discriminate by income level.
Nobody knows this better than Raul Toscano, a Queens-based man who owns and operates a professional cleaning service that specializes in clearing out squalid hoarder apartments in New York City‘s toniest addresses.
It’s a job that requires discretion; one that protects the posh reputation of the building as well as its hoarder-in-residence. ‘The person may have a good name and they don’t want it thrown out there,’ he told the New York Post.
Since starting his business in 2013, Toscano has seen his fair share of squalid living conditions and fetid spaces behind the closed doors of the Big Apple’s ritziest apartment buildings. From dead rodents to towering piles of garbage, sex toys, bottled urine and human excrement – no job is too big or disgusting.
Before: Empty food containers, bottles, newspaper and garbage is piled waist-high in the living room of an elegant pre-war condo building
After: Raul Toscano’s clean-up crew hauled away hundreds of pounds of debris, polished the floors and restored the living room to is former glory
Before: A $1,400 Herman Miller office chair stands out among heaps of trash in the living room of a modern, luxury apartment
After: The spotless living room that overlooks the city’s skyline looks more like a furniture showroom
Before: Hundreds of used toilet paper rolls, baby wipes and garbage made the bathroom of this posh apartment inaccessible. The resident’s hoarding got so bad that he began defecating in the bathtub
A member of Raul Toscando’s clean-up crew braves the filth of a hoarder who began defecating in the bathtub. Pictured right is the same bathroom after it’s been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected
Raul Toscano’s primary clientele are the rarified residents of Billionaires Row and Manhattan’s Gold Coast. Because appearances are important, he says that discretion is crucial to that success of his business. His team of cleaners move quickly and stealthily so to not raise any eyebrows among the buildings posh neighbors. This often means they obscure the logos on their uniforms and discard all garbage in covered containers to keep the job hush hush
Hoarding is an equal opportunity illness that afflicts 2 to 5 percent of the population. It can affect a retired postal worker living in a trailer park; just as it can a hedge fund manager living in a penthouse on Billionaire’s Row.
That’s where Raul Toscano, 45, and his crew of cleaners come in, moving stealthily into some of the most expensive and rarified neighborhoods in Manhattan.
For example, this past summer Toscano was called to address a situation in one of the palatial apartments designed by Emery Roth on Park Avenue. The owner was found dead in a pile of accumulated junk that he tripped on. Toscano told the New York Post that he hoarded over 10,000 books, 300 framed pictures along with a mess of old computers and filing cabinets.
More recently, he was appointed to help a 90-year-old Upper West Side woman clear out her upmarket three bedroom apartment on Central Park West. ‘It was just clutter everywhere,’ he told the New York Post.
In total, they hauled 18 tons of clutter out of the woman’s home. Toscano said his company, Clutter Free, handles situations of that magnitude at least ‘once, sometimes twice a week.’
The tell tale signs of hoarding are always the same: roaches, foul odors, pungent leaks and vermin.
Cluttered homes are notorious reservoirs for bed bugs. Toscano recalls a job that he completed a year-and-a-half ago on Central Park South which required him to rip out the floorboards of an apartment in order to rid its bedbug infestation. The unit was encased by towers of papers, old magazines and cardboard boxes stacked several feet tall.
Before and After: The cleanup of a kitchen discovered rotten food and empty packaging strewn across the floor. Situations like these present a health and hygiene concern for the tenant and neighbors
Before: A closeup image reveals heaps of rodent excrement during the cleanup of an overrun bathroom
Before: Debris, dirt and a mouse were found hiding behind the refrigerator
Before: A close-up image of inside the refrigerator reveals rodent excrement and decayed food
After: The refrigerator has been sanitized for use and organized in an orderly manner
‘We see it all,’ said Toscano.
One $18,000 job in the Upper West Side uncovered a trove of sex toys and bottles full of urine. Another revolting assignment took his hazmat-suited and booted team to an apartment that had gotten so bad – its resident was defecating in the bathtub.
But the story was more grim for a posh building where Toscano’s team uncovered the ghastly scene of a dead husky still in its cage – eight months after it died. The single bottle of Clorox Bleach wipes among dozens of red Milk Bone boxes piled atop the kennel feels like a non-sequitur joke.
The goal is to get the job done as quickly as possible without raising any eyebrows among neighbors. It requires his team of cleaners to keep a low profile while quietly ripping apart rooms. They purposely obscure the logos on their uniforms and discard all garbage in covered containers to keep the job hush hush.
‘We have bins, so people can’t really see what’s coming out, and they’re covered,’ explained Toscano to the New York Post. ‘What we try to do is prep everything and get it out quickly.’
‘And a lot of times, the buildings don’t want the neighbors freaking out. It’s bad if you pay top dollar for a nice apartment, and you’re living next to someone, and you can smell the person’s apartment and you’re wondering where the roaches are coming from.’
Before: Toscano’s team uncovered the ghastly scene of a dead husky still in its cage – eight months after it died in the Upper West Side apartment
During: Employees of Clutter Free work at disinfecting the tony Upper West Side apartment where a woman had kept her dead husky for eight months. In total, they hauled 18 tons of clutter out of the woman’s home. Toscano said his company, Clutter Free, handles situations of that magnitude at least ‘once, sometimes twice a week’
After: The same room where Toscano’s cleanup crew discovered a dead dog is restored to its former glory as a polished dining room. Though disturbing, Toscano says he ‘sees it all’ – one $18,000 job in the Upper West Side uncovered a trove of sex toys and bottles full of urine throughout the living space
Before and after: Toscano’s clean-up crew removed piles of clothing and garbage stacked waist-high. Pathologically cluttered apartments present a fire hazard and can also become a haven for pests of all kinds, including bed bugs. ‘Collyers’ mansion’ – (named after the infamous hoarders of Harlem) is code for firefighters responding to those suffering from the obsessive-compulsive disorder
New York City has a long and lurid history of residents being killed by their own junk.
A small park in Harlem is dedicated to the eccentric Collyer Brothers whose infamous tabloid story still fascinates New Yorkers over 70-years after their bodies were discovered deceased among 140 tons of their own detritus. Homer and Langley Collyer were well-off members of Manhattan’s elite who withdrew from society after their parents’ death in the 1920s.
Apart from a few isolated incidents, the reclusive brothers were rarely seen or heard until March 21, 1947 when neighbors called police complaining of a pungent odor emanating from their lavish brownstone. It took cops two hours to tunnel through piles of bric-a-brac where they finally found Homer’s corpse dressed in an old bathrobe, surrounded by musical instruments, camera equipment, guns, human organs preserved in jars, bowling balls and various booby traps.
Langley was nowhere to be found until weeks later when a worker discovered his decomposed body, half eaten by rats, crushed under a pile of junk.
There’s also the story of Ida Mayfield Wood, a high-society socialite who was married to the publisher of the New York Daily News that lived in squalor in a hotel room at the time of her death in 1932. Ida had hoarded nearly $1 million in cash, stuffed in pots and pans throughout the room. Among other valuables found inside were a diamond necklace hidden in a Cracker Jack box.
And who could forget the more recent story of Huguette Clark, a Fifth Avenue heiress who died in 2011, having hoarded everything from dolls to the care labels of cashmere sweaters.
Hoarding has long been a challenge in New York City. It’s most infamous case was the 1947 Collyer Mansion incident in Harlem where the corpses of two eccentric brothers were found deceased among 140 tons of clutter inside their lavish mansion. It took cops two hours to tunnel through debris before they reached the body of Homer Collyer, who died of starvation. His brother Langley (pictured above) was nowhere to be found until weeks later when a worker discovered his decomposed body, half eaten by rats, crushed under a pile of junk
In the 1970s, former New York socialites Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier were discovered holed up in human and animal waste while living in a decrepit East Hampton mansion. The relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis occupied three of the home’s 28 rooms that were overrun by hundreds of cats, possums and raccoons. They famously became the subjects of the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens
Ida Mayfield Wood (left) was a high-society socialite who was married to the publisher of the New York Daily News that lived in squalor in a hotel room at the time of her death in 1932. Ida had hoarded nearly $1 million in cash, stuffed in pots and pans throughout the room. Among other valuables found inside were a diamond necklace hidden in a Cracker Jack box. More recently, Huguette Clark was a Fifth Avenue heiress who died in 2011, having hoarded everything from dolls to the care labels of cashmere sweaters
Hoarding has long been a challenge in the city where many live in small quarters and in proximity to neighbors. The condition presents a hygiene and safety concern which quickly becomes everyone’s problem.
One incident at a Brooklyn apartment in 2011 had deadly consequences after a fire broke out and claimed the life of a fire fighter in the line of duty. The apartment overstuffed with old newspapers and jam-packed with possessions was essentially a tinderbox – or- in firefighter parlance, ‘Collyers’ Mansion conditions,’ named after the infamous Harlem hoarders.
These apartments are especially dangerous because the debris blocks entryways, making it difficult for first responders to address the emergency.
Hoarding disorder is defined by the MAYO Clinic as ‘a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them.’ One who suffers from the compulsion experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of items, regardless of their value.
A recent study concluded that up to 16 million Americans struggle with the obsessive-compulsive disorder. Though it isn’t necessarily more common in New York, the city’s close quarters pose a unique challenge for hoarders, so much so that a New York City Hoarding task force was convened in the 2000s to determine how to address the problem.
Keeping surfaces clear and spaces open is nothing if not an uphill battle for anyone living in the city’s cramped apartments. But for Toscano, a self-described ‘clean freak,’ orderliness came by way of birth. The Queens native told DailyMail.com that he learned ‘military-style cleaning’ from his mother and grandmother, and that he kept his clothes ironed and room in ‘tip-top shape’ for as long as he could remember.
He started Clutter Free in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy destroyed houses in its pernicious path. ‘I was devastated and wanted to help. From hugs to just giving help to a hand in need, I finally found my place,’ he said.
Before: This upscale apartment in downtown Manhattan took Toscano’s crew four days to clean several rooms. The kitchen and dining area (pictured) was littered with garbage and drug paraphernalia
After: The modern downtown apartment was restored back to its original luster
Before: Employees of Clutter Free systematically organize and clean the living room area of a wealthy client who stockpiled garbage and personal affects in her apartment
After: The same living room purged of its clutter unveils a vacuumed carpet and polished furniture