Chester County's 8th Annual Landlord Forum

Roberta Machin, BA


On May 22, Decade to Doorways collaborated with the Pennsylvania Link to Aging and Disability Resources to host a forum for approximately 75 landlords in and around Chester County, called "Healthy Tenants, Happy Landlords."  Experts spoke about Hoarding, Bed Bugs, and Lead and Mold Remediation.  Organizer Elizabeth Doan, Coordinator for the Link, hoped to foster new relationships between landlords and service providers in order to support low-income tenants within Chester County.

Annie Amoon Richard, Certified Professional Organizer for Amoon’s Custom Organizing, spoke first on the topic of hoarding.  She defined hoarding as a disorder in which a person has difficulty discarding, which leads to an accumulation of stuff that prevents normal use of space.  People who suffer from this disorder generally feel emotional attachment to their belongings, and experience distress due to feelings of responsibility and a fear of waste.  Most individuals who hoard are over the age of 40, intelligent, perfectionists, and socially isolated.  Unfortunately, Richard explained that hoarding can lead to conflict with loved ones over clutter, health risks, inability to have visitors due to embarrassment, and mental health problems, especially depression.

Many landlords view this situation as irritating due to the increased maintenance hazards and risks of infestation and structural damage.  Richard encouraged landlords to conduct a home visit and speak with their tenants patiently, asking questions and expressing empathy.  She explained that gasping or attempting to remove the tenant’s belongings without permission would lead to negative emotional reactions and increase the tenant’s distress.  It is important to evaluate the situation for safety violations and ask the tenant what kind of supports they need.  As a member of the Philadelphia Hoarding Task Force, Richard hopes to improve outcomes for people who hoard and reduce the catastrophic consequences related to hoarding for residents in the area.

The next speaker, Paul Bello of PJB Pest Management Consulting, led a lively discussion on bed bugs and pest management.  As the author of “The Bed Bug Combat Manual,” Bello is one of the foremost experts on pest control and has removed bed bugs from residential homes across the country.  According to Bello, it is imperative for landlords to establish an effective bed bug management program, which should incorporate chemical treatment, heat (at or above 122 degrees), and a high-powered vacuum.  A bed bug can lay up to 300 eggs in the course of its lifetime, which can last up to six months.

Bello explained that bed bugs are adept at hitchhiking, and so no matter how clean your own living space is, you could easily pick up bed bugs somewhere else and bring them home.  In addition, bed bugs can easily crawl through cracks in the walls of a neighboring apartment or room, spreading the infestation.  Therefore, it is not always the fault of the tenant when bed bugs are discovered at their residence.  Tenants, landlords, and pest management experts must work together in order to ensure the health and safety of all residents.

The final presenter, Ron Gerricke, Director of Field Operations at McCright & Associates, spoke on the topic of lead and mold remediation.  Gerricke focused on the dangers of lead-based paint, which can cause serious health problems if ingested due to its toxicity.  Prior to 1978, there were no federal regulations restricting the use of lead in household paint.  Lead-based paint is easy to identify on windowsills and wooden door frames, where paint may be peeling.  Children and family members could easily inhale dust from the paint or ingest flakes, which would present serious health risks for the household and legal issues for the landlord.  According to Gerricke, it is important to encapsulate all surfaces where paint is peeling, chipping, flaking, or dusting. 

In addition to the valuable information the landlords were able to take home with them, prizes were also given away during the raffle at the conclusion of the forum.  The prizes included a tour of the 6abc news station, gift cards to hardware stores and local restaurants, free consolations, and sports memorabilia and tickets.  Overall, the event was successful in educating landlords on the many ways to keep their tenants healthy and their units clean.