Lindor Reynolds of the Winnipeg Free Press reports on a bed bug eviction case in Winnipeg: a woman was evicted from her Sherbrook Street apartment. It was infested with bed bugs. She is disabled and on social assistance. This is a heart-breaking story.
But this is also a complicated story: George Bibik, owner of the 30-unit building, was advised to evict the woman by the health department.
He did evict the woman. He did so on the advice of the health department which, acting on a complaint from other tenants, found her one-bedroom apartment infested with bedbugs. Officials ordered the apartment sealed, the contents destroyed and the entire block fumigated.
The problem, Bibik said, is that the woman has a mental illness that causes her to “dumpster dive” — that is to scour trash bins for anything of interest — and to stockpile her findings in her home.
After she received her eviction notice, Bibik said, the woman removed scores of boxes from the apartment. It still took him 13 trips to the dump to clean out the 600-square-foot, one-bedroom suite.
“The health inspector said it was one of the worst things she’d ever seen,” Bibik said. “Bed bugs usually only come out at night. They were crawling all over everything during the day. It was awful.”
When the floor-to-ceiling boxes were removed from the bedroom, the building’s owner discovered the walls were coated with mould. “I had to wash everything down with Javex,” Bibik said. “Now I have to paint the entire suite.”
Every unit had to be treated, at $80 a pop. The article says “fumigated,” but the price tells me it was traditional spraying. I sincerely hope Bibik understands this must be repeated several more times at two-week intervals. Ideally, all adjacent units would be inspected–anyone with a known infestation has to do more than just get sprayed, they need to deal with clothing and possessions properly.
Despite all this, Bibik, rightly in my opinion, does not blame the tenant. As Reynolds says:
He’s angry too, but not with his former tenant.
He’s angry that the social services system does such a poor job of helping people with mental illness to find safe housing where they’ll be looked after.
He’s angry there was no one making sure the woman wasn’t in trouble.
“I can only go into an apartment so often,” he said, “and I can only go in if the tenant has a problem. Why isn’t there someone taking care of her? She’s ill. Her social worker knows she’s ill. We have to have housing in this city where people get proper care.”
This is the second time Bibik has had a tenant with a noticeable mental illness, one that led to compulsive behaviour. That time, he spent ages on the phone trying to find help for the woman.
I have no doubts that this is a common problem. While bed bugs do not develop simply because you have a cluttered home, activities like dumpster diving (and bringing in used furniture or other items from the curb) can introduce the problem. Hoarding behaviors in and of themselves may mask a bed bug problem, or may prevent the tenant from seeking help, if they are concerned about others seeing their posessions.
There are multiple victims here: the mentally-ill person whose behavior is introducing or harboring bed bugs, the neighbors who may become infested, the landlord who has to pay to deal with it. It is a complex situation, to be sure. The one thing we can be sure of is that if such conditions are allowed to continue, those bed bugs will spread throughout the building.
Simply evicting such a tenant is not enough–social service agencies must step in. Or those bed bugs are simply going to travel to a new location with this tenant, infesting another motel, homeless shelter, apartment building.
And I want to be really clear here–we’ve heard other cases of tenants being evicted by landlords simply because they were the first to notice or to report bed bugs in the building. That is a completely different situation. Landlords who engage in that kind of retaliation don’t understand the problem, and aren’t likely to eradicate it from their buildings until they do.
It’s also really important to note that you can have engaged in dumpster diving in the past, or be a hoarder, or have a clutter problem, and not be the source of your building’s bed bugs. There is no definite relationship there. We have to reserve a nugget of skepticism whenever someone declares one unit to be “the epicenter” of a building’s bed bugs. In this case, it does sound like the unit was particularly bad, however.
You can read the article here.