Dumpster-diving tenant evicted after Winnipeg apartment seriously infested with bed bugs

by nobugsonme on December 29, 2007 · 7 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, canada, curbside, dumpster diving

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.

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1 parakeets December 29, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Experts estimate that 2% of the population are hoarders, and a higher percentage than that among the elderly. After non-payment of rent, hoarding is the second most common reason for eviction of tenants. Since many PCOs simply refuse to treat a unit with clutter for bedbugs, this is a conundrum that cannot be easily resolved. Even if all the clutter were removed from a unit in question and the entire building was successfully treated for bedbugs, the tenant could bring bedbugs in the next time he or she picks up something from a dumpster and reinfest the building. Hoarding syndrome is very difficult to treat and the hoarding behavior often continues, even with medication and counseling.

2 nobugsonme December 29, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Parakeets,
That is a very interesting statistic.
What can be done in such cases? Do you agree with the landlord here that social services should be assisting the tenant?

3 parakeets December 29, 2007 at 2:04 pm

Hoarding is treated as a diability and, as such, tenants with disabilities are entitled to accommodations. So social serivces, visiting nurse associations, elder services, etc., should be called in to assist the tenant. Some municipalities are creating “Hoarding Taskforces” similar to “Bedbug Taskforces” to address the problem of hoarding. In Massachusetts there was one case where $16,000 was spent to clean out and treat a unit and tenant where the tenant was a hoarder. A year later the unit was back to where it was. Hoarding is a difficult problem to treat. Seminal studies have been done by researchers Tolin, Frost and Steketee and cognitive therapy seems to give some help. There can be co-morbidities such as dementia, depression, and other disorders which also have to be treated. There is no easy solution and with the population growing older, this will become an increasingly prevalent problem. Hoarding definitely impacts a bedbug problem. Though clutter does not cause bedbugs, a tenant who hoards is more likely to have a unit that cannot be successfully treated for bedbugs and the tenant may be likely to bring bedbugs in if he or she continues to dumpster dive.

4 Blue_Ox December 29, 2007 at 11:43 pm

my question is – was it really mould or was it bedbug poop?

5 M.A. March 30, 2009 at 5:25 pm

It is indeed unfortunate that there is nowhere for these people to go for help. I also believe that our local MLAs need to make plans to assist lower income families with resources for doing their laundry and providing other resources such as matress enclosures etc.when apartments get infested otherwise these bugs are going to just keep spreading all over Winnipeg. Every day when I check there seems to be more apartments and I am sure single family dwellings as well affected. People need to realize that bed bugs do not just happen to the poor, they can happen to anyone. The stigma needs to be lifted and we all need to band together to fight this scourge!

6 Concerned-Disabled Lady May 11, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Yes,it is indeed a horrid situation regarding people who have mental illnesses.As a single disabled individual without kids myself(anxiety/depression)Social Assistance should be more supportive and keep a closer tab on tenants who suffer emotional issues.What’s really awful is,I’ve been trying to speak with the Politicians regarding the decreased rental amount for us and they refuse to do much about it.They just don’t want to keep up with the full cost of inflation.With most single individuals on full-time disability(without children)we’re only allowed $243.00 plus utilities and the extra $35.00/mth but that isn’t enough for a stable home.It is next to impossible to find even a bachelor apartment for that amount unless it’s a slum.Long story short,emotionally disturbed individuals will act out in certain ways when they’re unhappy about their residence (environment) situation & start dumpster diving,or keep large amounts of unwanted trash/debris on their rented premises.With Low-Income Gov’t dwellings,they don’t allow people without children in there and thats quite unfair in most cases.Only solution we can do is keep fighting with the politicans to give an increase to the single disabled individuals to make them more at ease and give them therapy support too 1-2x a week(with a psycholigical councillor@ home to ease their symptoms).It would make a GREAT difference for us to be helped in this unlivable situation.

7 Rick July 26, 2010 at 3:30 am

That women should have been evicted. It is sad she has a mental illness, but the rest of the tenants and the landlod should not have to suffer because of her problems.

Any landlord has the right to inspect the condition of the suites in the building with proper notice. The landlord shoud kick out all the people in the building who live like total pigs including hoarders. Hoarding has always been a fire hazard, but now its also a bed bug hazard.
Landloards should give all tenants (with the help of a pest control professional) regular suite inspestions for bed bugs.

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