The Times Herald-Record reports today that a Monticello, NY building was seriously infested with bed bugs and had other code violations. In some ways, it was similar to Denver’s Halcyon House, in that the residents don’t have much money, and they were being made to live under inhumane conditions, in violation of housing codes. Halcyon House, however, remains open, its tenants living in unsafe conditions with serious code violations and a massive bed bug infestation.
Adam Bosch reported in the Times Herald-Record that
Tenants complained to the building’s owner and manager about bugs and items of disrepair, but they said reports of their problems fell on deaf ears. The building is owned by North Plank Development Co., a subsidiary of Orange County realtor John Lease III, and by Autumn Sky Development Co., whose CEO is Steven Michalski of New Paltz.
Unlike Halcyon House, of course, this building was much smaller (only 16 apartments). Nine residents, five of them veterans from WWII, Vietnam, and Desert Storm, signed a petition, which they presented to the village of Monticello, the DSS, and the VA, on June 20th. Note to Bedbugged readers: organizing tenants can really make things happen.
Monticello’s action was prompted by a June 20 petition from tenants. They sent the petition to village officials and other organizations, such as the Department of Social Services and Veterans Administration.
“We the undersigned make this formal complaint about the infestation of bedbugs,” the letter read. “We have repeatedly complained to the management about this problem and as yet have not gotten any results.”
The city has shut down the building, and the red cross has moved the tenants to area hotels. (Note to building management, village officials and Red Cross: you probably need a bed bug protocol for future situations; it’s easy for tenants to spread bed bugs to hotels, and bring them back again. Treatment should thus continue after tenants return, and in future some protocol needs to be developed to help people not take bed bugs to their “safe” alternate housing.)
The heroes? The village, of course, willing to stand up to landlords. (Are you listening, city of Denver?)
The building was formerly the Victoria Hotel, a boarding house in which people lived on top floors above a basement pub. Now an apartment building, it was closed last week as part of Monticello’s continuing crusade against substandard housing. The village has shut down more than 20 blighted or noncompliant houses since February.
I am glad that Monticello’s inspectors find it unacceptable for tenants to live with bed bugs.
The bedbugs were so numerous that their feces left large stains on tiled floors, village building inspector Sue Flora said. The bugs also ate holes into the skin of residents, leaving them with trails of scabs.
And the lone tenant who got the ball rolling, convincing other tenants to sign a petition, even when many were willing to tolerate bed bugs for years.
The charge for help at 384 E. Broadway was lead by tenant Rich Masser, 61. Masser said many of the people living in the apartments had grown used to the bedbugs. Some had lived there for more than 15 years. They were scared of what might happen if they made a fuss about it. Some feared this very fate, that they might be forced to leave.
Fear of the consequences of pressing landlords to solve a bed bug problem is widespread. But without treatment, problems will only get worse.
“For years they were getting bit and wouldn’t say a word about it,” Masser said of his fellow tenants. “Nobody deserves to live like this – nobody.”
Bravo, Rich Masser. Thanks for reminding us that one person can make a difference.
You’re Bedbugger’s first official Hero of the Week!
Maybe someone out there can whip up a nice “Hero of the Week” icon for us, but for now, words will have to do.
I don’t know if Mr. Masser was one of the veterans named in the article, but he is certainly a Hero. Happy Independence Day to the tenants of this building. I hope they are living back at home and under suitable conditions soon.