A new article on Halifax, Nova Scotia’s bed bug epidemic, appeared in the Chronicle Herald Friday.
According to the CBC.ca Marketplace website:
In Nova Scotia, Halifax doesn’t have clear-cut legislation for dealing with bedbugs. Responsibility for extermination falls upon the tenant if a landlord can prove a tenant brought the bugs in. The Halifax agency has found that landlords often foot the bill as it’s difficult to prove there were no bugs before a tenant moves in. Tenants are advised to write a letter to a landlord asking to deal with the problem within a reasonable timeframe. If the landlord refuses, a hearing can be conducted in front of the officer of residential tenancies.
While, as the CBC information states, it is difficult for landlords to prove a tenant brought bed bugs in, many people who discover bed bugs will assume they brought them in if they bought something in a secondhand store, were in a hotel, or accepted a used mattress.
Believe it or not, it is still possible to do these things and not get bed bugs every single time. So having done one of them recently does not in itself prove blame for bed bugs being brought in.
And it is also possible to get bed bugs from neighbors in multi-unit housing without doing anything at all. My concern is that landlords and tenants will often rush to assign blame, and as we have said many times here, it is much harder than you think to identify the party “to blame” for your infestation.
The article in the Chronicle Herald by Deborah Mensah-Bonsu demonstrates the problem with tenant laws which allow the “tenant who caused the problem” to be blamed and forced to pay for treatment, if that tenant can be identified.
First, Mensah-Bonsu describes the scope of the bed bug epidemic in Halifax:
A representative of Residential Tenancies for Nova Scotia said the government agency has been receiving calls about the bugs lately.
“It has been coming up,” said Joey, who could not give his last name.
First warning sign: the Halifax government representative who spoke to the press about bed bugs would not give his last name?
Then Joey describes the local housing laws in reference to bed bugs:
He said if the problem was caused by a tenant the landlord could hold him or her responsible for pest control but if it’s an issue with the building and the source is unknown, the landlord would be responsible for fumigation.
If the problem is not resolved, the tenant can apply to the Residential Tenancies Board for termination of the lease, he said.
So basically, if the landlord (thinks s/he) can identify the source, then the tenant must pay. But if the problem gets out of hand, and multiple units are infested, then the original source tenant is off the hook. In other words, Halifax’s law, like those in some other areas of Canada, is designed to encourage people to not report bed bugs, and allow them to spread.
As much as finding the source of the epidemic might seem like the “fair way to do things,” it’s really hard to do, and really easy to be wrong. The reason is that it is really hard to track the source of infestations. Bed bugs move around, many tenants are not allergic to them and have no idea, other tenants are terribly allergic and are likely to notice them first. You can also be bitten for a time without reacting, even if you are allergic. So knowing when and where the problem started is extremely tricky.
Some people think moving is a solution, but Mr. (Brian) Betts (of Ace Pest Control, in Dartmouth) said that is most likely the source of the problem.
“Somebody will have (the bugs) in an apartment and they’ll be frustrated, and when they’re moving they’re taking the bedbugs to a new location. You got people moving from one unit to another in metro and just dispersing the bugs more and more all the time.”
While this is true, it is also true that bed bugs will often stay put and feast happily on one tenant for a while. S/he may not even know, if they are among the great mass of people who are not allergic, and so do not react to bed bug bites. But when this tenant moves (for whatever reason), they will rush to the neighboring units, to avoid going hungry. This is another prime reason why the first tenant to notice s/he has bed bugs should not be blamed for the infestation.
TransGlobe Property Management Services, owner of the Ocean Towers apartment buildings at Brunswick and Gerrish streets, has been receiving a lot of heat from tenants over bedbugs. So much so that it released a statement saying it has been addressing the issue since buying the property in 2005.
“There is an issue with bedbugs in the entire city and nationwide,” said Paul Dillon, director of marketing and public relations for the Toronto company, which owns more than 2,000 rental units in Nova Scotia. “It’s just unfortunate that this particular property is being targeted, but it was present before we purchased the building.”
If tenants were not punished for being the first person to report bed bugs in the building, by being blamed and forced to pay (in many cases), then perhaps bed bugs would not have such a thorough hold on buildings.
Landlords and tenants are both victims of this epidemic. But the blame game– and by this I mean the attempt to single out one tenant as the definite source of bed bugs in a larger building, or workplace infestation– does not work with bed bugs. The source, really often, is not what you think. The best situation for both landlord and tenant is for bed bugs to be treated as soon as possible, thus preventing their spread.
Click here to read the article in the Chronicle Herald. Click here to see a rundown of Canada’s laws regarding bed bugs and who pays for treatment.