January 17th, 2011
Local housing advocates are warning that a bedbug infestation may not be far off if problems in rental units aren't addressed quickly.
The province recently announced that it was handing out $5 million in grant money to enable health units to run public bedbug education campaigns.
But the provincial NDP greeted the news with a sharp rebuke, saying that the money falls short, and the province needs to put stronger measures in place to ensure that landlords are taking care of infested rental properties.
That's a growing problem in Peterborough, said LeeAnne Cross, a licenced paralegal and community legal worker with the Peterborough Community Legal Centre.
Cross said the legal clinic began getting complaints about bedbug-infested rental units, and landlords slow to address the problem, about three years ago.
At first, she said, it was one isolated building.
"Now it's all over," Cross said.
Part of the education process has to include information about who is responsible for what, she said.
The extermination process is expensive. Cross said it's well beyond the reach of anyone living on a limited income.
The city's property standards bylaw states that landlords are responsible for preventing infestations of insects, rodents, birds or other animals, and are also responsible for removing or exterminating any existing infestations.
But arguments between tenants and landlords about infestations are becoming more common, she said.
As it continues and the problem doesn't get addressed, she said, bedbugs take over every piece of furniture that tenant owns, until those items are completely unusable.
"I've had clients who have had to walk away from everything," she said.
She acknowledged that the situation is difficult and frustrating for landlords.
But she's seen clients on ODSP, with little to begin with, who have been left with nothing following an infestation.
According to Rosemary O'Donnell, manager at the Housing Resource Centre, they hear weekly bedbug complaints from tenants.
The problem seems to be confined to rental units, she said, but it can quickly spread to the wider community if it's not effectively dealt with.
"Normally, it's the landlord's responsibly to ensure a unit is devoid of pests," O'Donnell said.
The vast majority of their complaints come from tenants, she said, and she's heard concerns that some landlords are reluctant to front the cost associated with eradicating bedbugs.
O'Donnell said one person, with two small children, moved into a unit that became so infested with bugs that it eventually became uninhabitable.
The family had to move out of the unit during the extermination process, she said. In the meantime, the tenant still had to pay rent.
Health Inspector Shawn Telford-Eaton said health unit does get calls about bedbugs, but it tends to happen in waves.
The health unit's role is to educate the public, she said, and help with infestation identification.
The latter can be tricky, she said, particularly if you're not sure if you're getting bitten at home or somewhere else.
Telford-Eaton recommends bringing a sample of the critter to the health unit, to see if the culprits are bedbugs.
Cross said some funding should be available to help prepare homes before the extermination process takes place.
Cracks need to be sealed, furniture moves away from the wall, everything needs to be vacuumed and laundry needs to be done and put in sealable bags.
"Preparation is huge in this," she said.
That can be difficult for people who are living with a disability, she said, adding that if it's not done properly the first time, the infestation comes back.
Cross stressed that bedbugs can, and do, happen to everyone.
It's an issue affecting all segments of society, she said, and not just those on limited incomes