Hoarding Behaviors Cause Landlords Big Problems

Hoarding behaviors are on the rise. Take proactive steps to address problems head-on before they escalate to save you repair costs and potential liability.

Today animal and other hoarding cases are mainstream news and the stuff of television reality shows. Early in my career, I worked for a group of self-insured cities and experienced my first case of animal hoarding, if you consider a rat an animal.

In a small Bay Area apartment complex, fellow tenants walked by an apartment unit and noticed a rat sunning itself once in a while on the windowsill. No biggie, they thought. “Live and let live” is a Bay Area core value. Eventually as they passed, however, they noticed the curtains were chewed at the bottom. Still not a big deal. Until one morning, lots of rats were hanging out on the sill and the neighbors decided to peek under the ever-shortening curtain hem. What they saw freaked them out. There were many, many rats, hundreds in fact, scampering about or chillin’ on the furniture, maybe even watching Animal Planet. Neighbors called the management company which turned to the city for help. As the city’s claims representative, I arrived right after a Hazmat team.

Sure, it started out innocently enough – two rats that bred. Then those rats bred. Then the tenants turned their bedroom into the “rat room” and moved into the living room. Soon, rats were everywhere, hundreds when I arrived, as city workers in respirators caged and counted.

“Domestic squalor” is a term used by professionals to define people who slowly destroy their own living quarters. Those who stockpile may experience extreme loneliness after the death of a partner or may have a mental disorder. However, despite the reasons one begins to hoard, landlords must proactively manage these issues to reduce liability. After all, others have to live near these blighted properties.

If you own a rental unit, you probably have a hoarding story or two of your own. Tenants who store papers, hoard animals or even cook meth may be in your story repertoire. Managing the general factors that encourage or discourage these types of problems and others in housing risks can help you to avoid contending with a big, big mess. Those factors are environmental, biological and equipment-related.

Environmental factors include crowded hallways, inadequate lighting which encourages acts like using dark areas as toilets, overgrown landscaping and floors in poor condition.  

Biological factors include not treating vermin infestations, such as roof rats we harbor in inner city Phoenix. These pesky creatures destroy wiring and bring a host of other problems, including mites, rat waste and odor. Bedbugs, too, have become a national problem.

Equipment factors like leaking boilers and other poorly maintained equipment are frequently the root cause of other injuries and incidents like mold.

Only by frequent condition assessments of your tenant-occupied properties can you hope to discourage hoarding and other problems. Here are some tips to help you reduce the exposure to hoarding losses.

  • Try to develop relationships with repair people. Use them to report on the general condition of that property when making repairs, for example a plumber who replaces a leaking faucet or a heating specialist who repairs the heater. They can tip you off to any problems.
  • Put language in your lease agreements allowing monthly property inspection. Use monthly maintenance calls to replace heater filters as the time to eyeball the property condition. This monthly visit helps you both ensure your equipment is well maintained and that hoarding or filthy conditions are nipped in the bud.
  • Hoarding is a difficult situation. Do not let situation get out of hand. If you never faced this problem as a landlord, visit this URL to see what can happen when hoarding runs wild. Your city or county health department may offer guidance, as the city I represented did in the rat affair. Local social service organizations can often assist with the human element, which may be the hardest piece to manage.
  • If you do run across a case of domestic squalor, you may need to marshal outside resources before safely deploying workers. Many companies now specialize in cleaning up after hoarders. Beware, though, coverage for hoarding-related losses may be dicey under your insurance policy.

Landlording is never simple, but with many living alone without family support, hoarding behaviors are on the rise. Take proactive steps to address problems head-on before they escalate to save you repair costs and potential liability.

Four Steps to Giving a Great Speech

These four tips will help you painlessly prepare your presentation and deliver a talk that audiences will remember.


As insurance professionals, we often deliver speeches or talks in meetings. Finding the time to prepare adequately for the talk is challenging. Often, the hardest part is getting starting — writing that first sentence or paragraph. Even after we prepare our talk, many of us still dread public speaking. These four tips will help you painlessly prepare your presentation and deliver a talk that audiences will remember.

  1. What is the theme of my talk? Always begin and end with a clear theme. If you are discussing premium increases at a Rotary Club, for example, your theme may be this: Premiums are increasing worldwide. The only way to control your premiums is through a more structured, loss-sensitive insurance program or through tighter risk management controls. Punch that theme repeatedly in your talk.
  2. Know your audience. If you are addressing your colleagues, your tone will be much different than when addressing CEOs of competing businesses, for example. Just because you feel comfortable with your audience, do not let your guard down too far. Remember that every word you utter could later appear on social media or in some blogger’s post, either in or out of context.
  3. What steps can the audience perform when they leave that can help them take action based on your theme? Maybe they should meet with their current broker or hire a risk management consultant. Perhaps business owners should explore higher deductibles or other premium cost-saving measures. Anyone can regurgitate statistics and dry, “Yes, rates are expected to increase six percent in the commercial property sector in 2013.” Provide action steps for your audience as a takeaway from your talk and watch their interest grow.
  4. How do you want your audience to feel after your talk? In a sputtering economy, it may be hard not to sound negative. No matter how bad the news is, open your talk with humor to grab attention and close with a little levity, as well. Never let your audience walk away feeling gloomy. Audiences rarely remember content — they remember how you made them feel.

By taking these four steps each time you prepare a speech or even informal talks to your staff members, insurance professionals will find preparation easier and your talk much more effective.

Why You Need A Professional Bio

A professional bio quickly showcases your experience and sets you apart from the crowd.

Every insurance professional should develop his or her professional biography. Why a bio? Because despite our increasing reliance on electronic communications, people still want to know a little about you before they contact you. Your bio is a marketing tool that helps to build your brand. Your brand is your name, and the name of your company. When people consider insurance, you want your name to be the one that comes into their minds. This can only come through repeated branding of your name, or the name of your agency, with insurance.

Here are the top reasons to write your professional bio.

There are thousands of insurance agents for people to choose from, plus growing competition from direct writers. Therefore, it is imperative that you set yourself apart from the crowd. A professional bio quickly showcases your experience and sets you apart from the crowd.

A bio is the quickest way to say, “Insurance is not just a job; insurance is my career and I am proud to be an insurance professional.”

A bio will introduce you to new clients and potential strategic partners. Your bio can open doors to many new opportunities.

You can use your bio to obtain speaking engagements and media appearances. Perhaps you might author an article for a local newspaper on some aspect of insurance. Maybe you could be a guest on a local radio talk show. Perhaps you may give a talk at a local service organization. The bio opens the door to all this and more to help you build your brand.

Your bio can provide a dash of personal information that helps people relate to you in some way. This builds bridges and encourages people to contact you.

Your bio should be short, so pick the key points in your personal life and your career that provide the best flavor of who you are. A bio, once written, can be used again and again, or revised as your career deepens and your expertise grows.

If you need help creating a bio that works for you, feel free to contact us at Insurancewriter.com

Cavalcade of Risk #144 is a Turkey!

Nancy Germond hosts the 144th Cavalcade of Risk, and it’s no turkey!


Since this is the closest the Cavalcade of Risk will come to Thanksgiving this year, what better topic than “turkey” risk problems? While not all blog entries conform to this juicy topic, here are a few that do. In that tone, let’s begin with my Allbusiness blog post, “Consider the Total Cost of Jerks to Your Organization.” In it I discuss how much one human turkey in the workplace can actually cost your organization.

In “The Truth is Stranger than Fiction” category, Jon Coppelman of Workers’ Comp Insider, presents “Turkey Shoot.” This post discusses a case of an insurance investigator shot by the claimant he was investigating, allegedly after being mistaken for a turkey. The truth is often stranger than fiction, isn’t it?

Next, we move to another big turkey that is making the excess market sit up and notice just a bit on the topic of climate change. Have you ever asked yourself if Mother Nature could disrupt your business? This is an old tale for many companies who make their homes in states that regularly experience extreme weather—but what about the rest of us? Read “GRC Preparedness in a Changing Climate” on the Risk Management Monitor written by Alex Bender here.

We move on to some of the biggest turkeys of them all: mortgage makers. At Insurance Bad Faith Claims Bad Faith Law Blog, Dennis Wall updates “Good Faith: Homeowners Betrayed, Banks Unreal: California Investigates, Refuses Pre-Immunity.” His posting presents a reality-based review of why there should be a settlement in the talks between State Attorneys General and financial institutions which are, at one and the same time, Mortgage Loan servicers and originators. This settlement would include all claims based on anything other than the original conditions of the talks. What reasons do the Attorneys General have for even considering a Release of All Claims including claims not yet made and that they have not yet investigated? Read more to learn how Dennis Wall really feels.

As the Supreme Court announces its intent to ponder the national health care debate and those fortunate enough to have group health ponder high-deductible savings accounts and what that means to their budget, Louise Norris presents an interesting look at opting out of group health for individual coverage. Be sure to read her entry, “More Flexibility With An Individual Health Insurance Plan,” posted at Colorado Health Insurance Insider.

In our next post on Disease Management Care, Dr. Jaan Sidorov examines Medicare’s efforts at reducing costly readmissions. It turns out that it’s not only difficult to identify those patients who are likely to be readmitted, but the math necessary to compare readmission rates across hospitals is in its infancy. Dr. Sidorov argues in “Medicare Hospital Re-Admissions: Bad,” that while Medicare’s program is well meaning, this is another example of policy running out ahead of reality.

Medicare will start paying hospitals more which receive high marks for patient satisfaction. What steps are hospitals taking to avert the risk that they receive low scores? The Healthcare Economist weighs in with “Medicare to Hospitals: The Patient is Always Right.”

And as long as we’re talking about healthcare, Hank Stern asks the timely question: “Have you considered the risk of disability and how it might affect your ability to earn a living?” InsureBlog has some thoughts on how to manage that risk. As someone who became quite ill without disability coverage, I can tell you this is a question we should all consider. Read “Are You Protected” and take heed.

That is all the entries we have this time. Have a safe and secure Thanksgiving.


How Are You Handling Generational Challenges?

How is your organization handling generational challenges?

Recently I told my brother I was cleaning the house and asked rhetorically how one person and one dog could mess up a house so badly. His response was simple. “Perfect coordination.”  He is a bit of a wiseacre, but when I think more about it, perfect coordination is a wonderful thing.

Don’t you love those days when you have a thousand things to do and, at the end of the day, you sit back and say, “I accomplished most of what I set out to do.” Perfect coordination is important in business. If you are like me, my attention span fractures quite easily. I’m working on a project, the phone rings, an email arrives, a friend texts me — suddenly I am multitasking and not doing anything well.

I recently presented a series of seminars on challenges insurance professionals face as we blend four generations in the workplace. Each generation has its own work style and generational strengths. However, there is also an additional challenge in the “fringes” of each generation, who have characteristics of both generations. For example, I am a late -model Boomer, yet I have many characteristics of the following generation, Gen X. So if someone applied solely Boomer psychology to me, they would have troubling figuring out what motivates me.

In another few years, a fifth generation, now called by some the “i-Generation,” will arrive in the workforce with an array of electronic devices and technical capabilities. Remember, this is a generation that never knew life without a computer. How is your organization handling generational challenges?

If you would like to know more about how my presentation on managing generational differences, please drop me an email or call me at 602.870.3230. I’d be happy to help you with your company’s unique challenges.

Stemming the Brain Drain in the Insurance Industry

Insurance trainers are the first to go when times get tough, but also the first to return when times get good.


By Michael K. McCracken, CPCU, ASLI


I began my insurance career in 1977. I was hired as a personal lines underwriter trainee at the Huntington, West Virginia branch office of Buckeye-Union Insurance Company (one of the Continental Companies). I was joined by four other underwriter trainees at that time – another in personal lines, one in bonds, and two in commercial lines. The HR Director told us that the insurer wanted to fill its personnel needs, and that it had decided to go after bright, talented young people, instead of passively waiting for job applicants. She told us that her superiors were concerned about the “brain drain” at Buckeye-Union (and in the insurance industry in general) and that the company wanted to be pro-active in addressing the problem.

As the old saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” It seems that every couple of years, I read another article or two about the “brain drain” in the insurance industry and what can be done about it. Unfortunately, it seems that all I ever read is moaning and groaning; all I ever see is a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing. Rarely do I see any concrete, positive suggestions.

It seems that the problems range from the retirement of “baby boomers” to the “burn out” (and subsequent retirement) of underwriters, adjusters, and agents. It also stems from an over emphasis on sales and the cancelling or reduction of company training programs.

I’d like to make a couple of suggestions of my own and then share something that I read. In facing the “retirement problem,” I’d like to suggest this: top management should identify those in this group (age 57 to 62), who are doing good work. The insurers should then give these folks incentives – and I mean big incentives – to stick around a while longer. Create positions like “Master Adjuster” or “Master Underwriter.” Give them authority and compensation and ask them to actively mentor younger employees in the company.

Another event that seems to track the cyclical insurance profitability cycle is the staffing-up and then cutting-back of insurance company training departments. Trainers are the first to go when times get tough, but also the first to return when times get good. I believe that companies that have terminated or curtailed their training programs should reinstate them – yesterday! If a company – any company, be it an insurer, or grocery store, or car dealership – hires good people and trains them well, the benefits will be enormous in the years to come. There’s an old saying that applies to insurance data: “garbage in, garbage out.” In the employment world, a similar maxim might apply. “Poorly trained people in, poor results out.”

In a past issue of the National Underwriter, CNA took out an ad entitled “Building the Next Generation of Insurance Talent.” It talked about the lack of talented individuals for the “next generation” in the insurance industry. In that ad, CNA encouraged the insurance industry to do the following five things.

1. Support internships

2. Develop trainee and mentoring programs

3. Bench strength development by providing ongoing training to current employees

4. Improved producer and adjuster training

5. Encourage designation program participation

What do you think? Do you think CNA was right? What else can be done to stem the exit of talent from the insurance industry?