The Ellis Hollow Senior Living apartment complex on the outskirts of the city regards itself as a “Home for Possibilities” but senior residents living there say the only possibilities being offered are unsafe living conditions. The apartments offer affordable low income housing for senior citizens who say their concerns have not been adequately addressed by the property's owners, Conifer Realty.
Residents at the apartment complex have voiced concerns about unsafe living conditions caused by bed bug infestations that have plagued the building since 2014.
When questioned about the ongoing bed bug infestation, property manager Virginia Goines said that there was no bed bug infestation and that Orkin Pest Control has come on several occasions to spray the building with pesticides. Goines said that Orkin records could prove that there is no infestation, but never shared those records with the Ithaca Times.
The Director of communications for Conifer Reality, Kate Griffin responded to requests to comment on the situation saying that the rental office at Ellis Hollow was notified about the bed bug issue four weeks ago and “immediately contacted Orkin to treat the affected units.”
Griffin said that she believes Orkin’s treatment has taken care of the situation, but that all 104 units at Ellis Hollow would be proactively inspected on May 8 and 9 “out of an abundance of caution.”
Griffin continued saying, “If bedbugs are discovered in any unit, we will provide the resident with information to prepare the apartment for treatment. In case the resident is not physically able to prepare the apartment, we will work with an outside agency for assistance and treat the apartment as soon as possible.”
However, according to Ellis Hollow resident and Tenant Advocate Lisa Hoyte, “Orkin pesticides may not be working because pesticide resistance may be happening since residents are buying store bought pesticides to use as Conifer delayed any approach to treat.” According to Hoyte, management has been aware of the bed bug issue for much longer than four weeks. Additionally, she says that Orkin has been charging $1,000 every time they come to spay an apartment, and some apartments are being sprayed numerous times.
Despite Conifer’s recent statement saying they would work with an outside agency to help seniors prepare their units for treatment, Hoyte explained that building management has placed the burden of preparing apartments for extermination on the elderly residents of the building, instead of assisting them.
Hoyte has said that elderly residents with “health issues and frailty have been expected to move furniture, pack up belongings, heat treat their clothes by washing in hot water, placing in bags and wiping down the walls,” which seniors struggle to do as a result of health and body limitations.
She continued saying that the situation is having a negative impact on residents' mental health and the “health risks are plenty for the elderly” because skin infections caused by bed bug bites “can cause great harm.”
A report by the Connelly law firm said that seniors usually don’t react to bed bug bites as a result of medications that suppress their body’s response to allergens. However, the report continued saying that an elderly woman in Pennsylvania died in 2016 after contracting sepsis from untreated wounds caused by bed bug bites.
According to Hoyte, “elderly residents here are not offered hotel stays and the Best Western is right in our backyard! Nor does [Conifer] compensate for property loss at no fault of our own, nor do they offer help to seniors who are physically unable to get apts ready for extermination causing willful delays and putting responsibility on us.”
“Residents are not compensated for any of their losses because management says they’re not responsible for personal property. Well, we’re not responsible for the bed bugs,” Hoyte said.
Teressa Silvers at Finger Lakes Independent Center has filed a Fair Housing Complaint to the CNY office on behalf of residents at Ellis Hollow due to “discrimination, retaliation and bullying tactics from property management" against tenants who are trying to address important housing issues.
“We could potentially have a class action case regarding personal injury and property loss due to 9 year bed bug infestation that goes unabated and properly addressed by the property manager,” said one Ellis Hollow resident.
According to a story published by the Des Moines Register in 2014, a similar situation resulted in the owners of two apartment buildings in downtown Des Moines being forced to pay a $2.45 million settlement to elderly and disabled residents seeking reimbursement for “back rent, lost property and other hardships.”
The attorney who represented the seniors in that case, Jeffrey Lipman, said that the outcome “puts landlords on notice that they cannot ignore bedbug issues.” He continued saying that if landlords fail to address infestations and don’t warn consumers that “they’re going to be held accountable.”
Despite the precedent set by this settlement, a Rutgers University report on bed bugs in affordable housing in New Jersey found that one in eight low-income apartments had a bed bug infestation and more than half the time residents and building owners were unaware of them.
According to the report, bed bugs are common in low-income housing because of management hiring low quality pest control services that use ineffective treatments like “relying on sprays instead of IPM.” IPM stands for “Integrated Pest Management” which involves a number of non-chemical methods “such as heat treatment or freezing, or mattress and box spring encasements,” according to the EPA.
Cornell University, which is less than a mile away from the Ellis Hollow apartment complex, has a world renowned IPM program but has not been involved in treating this ongoing infestation. Hoyte has said that building management should be working with the professionals at Cornell instead of relying on Orkins methods of treatment that have proven to be insufficient.
While Conifer has shown no signs of working with Cornell’s IPM team, Griffin said that “we have contracted Orkin to randomly treat 10 apartments every month over the next year, and will work with residents to minimize disruption. We will also host an informational meeting for residents on May 12th to discuss the importance of reporting bedbugs, and ways in which to eliminate their spread.”
The interaction that I have had with management at Ellis Hollow has been fantastic! Ginny has been nothing but pleasant and always takes the brunt of the harassment from the residents. She has always acted promptly when there is an issue of any kind. If a resident has bed bugs and doesn’t report to the office how is Ginny supposed to know to treat that apartment..it sounds like Lisa has found a few cases and has blown a situation out of proportion as if she was trying to harass Ginny and go after her and not knowing all the facts.
I lived at Ellis Hollow from 2014 to 2016. If anything Lisa Hoyt is understating the problems with Conifer and the way tenants are being abused at Ellis Hollow. Lisa is being very brave to speak out against Conifer because Conifer has retaliated and threatened tenants that try to advocate for themselves and others in the building. It happened to me.
[scaredBed bugs! Good lord, my mother used to live there years ago. It was such a nice place to live before Conifer Realty bought it. I’ve heard how it’s going down hill. Amber they need new business owner so they can get rid of those bed bugs. I feel so bad for the older residents there, it must be a total nightmare. I just can’t imagine! Glad we moved away to retire elsewhere since mom died. Really sad story, very disappointing.
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