Recently, Lalla Jones was enjoying some takeout coffee.
After the 68-year-old Brewerytown resident finished it, she glanced down and discovered three roaches in the bottom of her paper cup. Jones was thoroughly disgusted — but not surprised. Roaches have all but taken over her rowhouse in the 2500 block of Ingersoll Street in North Philly. They’re in her microwave oven. They’re in her refrigerator. They’re in her red toaster. They’re in the knobs on her stove. They’re even in her bed.
The freezer portion of her refrigerator is packed with groceries, but Jones no longer can bring herself to cook in her compact kitchen. She’s understandably grossed out by all the roaches and the debris they leave behind. Nor does she lounge in the living room on her favorite comfy chair in front of the TV because of the insects nesting inside. Instead, she perches on a nearby kitchen chair.
“They come out of the ceiling. They come down the wall. They’re all on my curtains. They are everywhere,” Jones told me, pointing.
Her landlord pays for regular extermination services. Jones also has gallon-size jugs of bug sprays. Yet, her home is still infested.
Jones, who lives alone, is convinced that the roaches are coming from an adjoining empty house that is boarded up. But her calls to local elected officials and the city’s 311 customer service number for nonemergency assistance have accomplished little; the situation persists. Philly’s official website states that residents can use the system to report all manner of problems that way, including those with vacant properties.
Frustrated, she reached out to The Inquirer looking for help. That’s how I wound up walking around her tiny home on Tuesday. It was cluttered, but there were no dishes in the sink and no open food containers sitting out that would attract pests.
I also tried to get answers from the city. The 311 system is a great idea, but there have been lingering questions about its effectiveness. After asking on her behalf for several days, I didn’t get far, but I did get a sense of the bureaucracy Jones was up against.
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As I walked outside to leave Jones’ house, I glanced at the one she suspects is the source of her roach problem. Finding out who has responsibility for that property is no easy matter. City real estate records that my colleague Craig McCoy helped unearth identify the owner as a limited liability company created in May 2018, one day before the rowhouse was sold for $120,000. According to corporate records from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s Office, the paperwork to create the LLC was filed from Miami and names Roman Makovitskiy as the owner.
No address was given for him and he did not respond to an email. In recent years, the rowhouse appears to have been flipped from speculator to speculator, selling for as little as $25,000 as recently as 2016. The quick jump in value would reflect the pace of gentrification in the fast-changing Brewerytown section. Jones grew up nearby and is loath to leave the neighborhood.
Late Wednesday, Peter Brooks, with the management company that oversees the property next door, called my colleague and pledged to try to solve the problem. Brooks didn’t want to say much about the owner, beyond saying he lives on the West Coast and had bought the house as an investment. He did say the man had paid for an extermination company to sweep the house last summer and has cleaned out the property and firmly secured it after squatters living illegally there had departed.
On Thursday, I learned the owner has approved another extermination.
That’s good news for Jones.
After a version of this column was posted online Friday, city officials got back to me. A spokesperson said they sympathized with Jones’ plight but took issue with her claim that she has “repeatedly” contacted them. Their records show she complained on June 30, and about a week later the city had dispatched an inspector who determined that the roach infestation was not from the house next door.
The records also show Jones refiled her complaint a few days after the July 12 inspection, but the Department of Licenses and Inspections did not send out another inspector. According to the city, the 311 call center has no record of subsequent complaints. (Jones told me that she did make more calls but that an operator told her those calls weren’t recorded in the system.)
“That the city could not confirm what Ms. Jones believes to be the case is not the same as ignoring her claim,” the spokesperson said in an email.
Also, it turns out there isn’t a taxpayer-funded program that provides pest extermination services in private homes. But shouldn’t there be?
Either way, given all the vacant and abandoned properties in Philadelphia, there’s no doubt lots of other residents are in the same situation. They need to be able to rely on the city for more help.