Seniors living in a subsidized housing complex in downtown Long Beach claim management has threatened residents with eviction — and in some cases followed through — when they were unable to prepare their units for bed bug extermination.
Three tenants of Plymouth West have been evicted on these grounds since 2015, though others have been put on notice, or threatened with eviction, to encourage compliance; four other tenants have been evicted this year due to monetary issues, management of the building confirmed.
A Plymouth West resident, Gary Shelton, 68, said he is on his third round of bed bug treatment after the first two didn’t work.
And he’s not alone.
Over the past 12 months, 84 of the 196 units in Plymouth West tower have been treated for bed bugs, and 19 of those have undergone multiple treatments, according to figures provided by Kent Davis, president of Lomco, the firm that owns and manages the 11-story building at 240 Chestnut Ave.
The preparation for eradicating the pests involves removing all clothing and linens from closets, dressers, and drawers and running it through a dryer cycle for one hour on high heat. All linens then must be sealed in a plastic bag. All shelves, including entertainment centers and bookshelves, need to be emptied. And everything needs to be placed in the bathroom or kitchen.
“It’s difficult, disruptive and causes extreme stress on the tenants,” Shelton said. “But, the end result is, if they can’t do it, they will be kicked out.”
Plymouth West is home to seniors over the age of 62, many of whom are on fixed incomes and rely on Section 8 housing assistance.
Davis said the bed bug issues is an epidemic in Long Beach, and other urban centers with an aging housing stock. He said management has been trying to eradicate the pests from the building for the past seven years.
“As a landlord, all I want to do is solve the problem,” he began, explaining that if he doesn’t handle the issue quickly, bed bugs can spread to other units in the building. “We need to be vigilant in mitigating this problem because if we do not, then we are out of compliance with health and safety codes, but more likely, are potentially subject to a liability.”
Davis said between 2013 and 2016, Lomco has spent approximately $400,000 on exterminations at Plymouth West.
After hearing some of the tenants’ concerns, Jorge Rivera, of tenants’ rights advocacy group Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE), organized a demonstration outside the building Tuesday afternoon.
About a dozen tenants in walkers and wheelchairs joined in, chanting and waving signs that read “Housing is a Human Right,” “People over Profit,” and “Bring Jack Back.”
The Jack they are referring to is a former tenant, Jack Awad, who was recently evicted for non-compliance and is now living at City Center motel.
Rivera said he helped Awad prep his apartment for the bed bug treatment for some 12 hours.
“I personally helped him pack up his things,” Rivera said. “I have photos to show everything was in bags and ready to go, except for a few bulky items still in the closet that were too heavy to move. When they knocked on the door and saw the few items, they evicted him for noncompliance.”
Davis disputed that account.
“LiBRE is trying to make it look like we are treating seniors in a way that is not right and that is completely unfair,” he said. “Lomco has been around for over 50 years. We have an incredibly good reputation for how we work with our seniors.”
Lomco owns and manages two other Long Beach senior housing properties, Providence Gardens and City View, as well as nine other buildings in Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with a combined total of over 2,000 units.
Shelton, who has lived at Plymouth West for just over six years, says he believes tenants are afraid to report problems to management because they fear they will be retaliated against. He said some are also afraid to report bed bugs because they know how grueling the preparation process can be.
“We’re a population of seniors all over the age of 62, many with illnesses and disabilities,” he said. “All we want is for management to change its pattern of behavior and offer to work with us to solve these issues.”
Harry Havgitian, president of the Resident Advocate Network at Plymouth West, said he organized about a dozen residents who are trying to advocate on behalf of the tenants.
“I’m not afraid to stand up for these people,” he said. “Somebody has to do it.”
Lomco’s law firm, Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP put Havgitian on final notice in March for being “verbally abusive” to management staff, and said if he continued his “bullying” behavior, his tenancy would be terminated.
Margaret “Peg” Hennessy, a retired social worker and Havgitian’s caretaker, on Tuesday urged the City Council to address the issue, which she described as “elder abuse” – not in the physical sense, she said, but from a mental and psychological standpoint.
“Being threatened to end up on the streets if you’re not a silent, non-assertive person is very damaging,” she said. “We no longer have community space to organize and talk because our common area is infested with bed bugs, and they are also telling us to stay out of each others’ apartments because that can track the bugs. We feel like we’re being treated like fifth graders.”
Davis said management is trying its best to control the problem.
“If somebody’s got a better way, I’m open minded to ways to address that,” he said. “Caring for seniors is what we do, and we want to provide the best living situation possible.”