Remember the story of bed bugs in the Princeton building at 205 Nassau Street, owned by landlord Sanford “Sandy” Zeitler? You will recall that Princeton’s health department gave Zeitler a “Final Notice of Violation,” which gave the landlord 30 days to correct the problem. He has to appear in court on May 3rd.
A new story on CentralJersey.com notes that Borough Councilman Roger Martindell would like to see more done in such cases, to help tenants, to prevent bed bugs spreading, and to prevent new tenants from moving in:
Mr. Martindell said the borough should devote more resources to the problem beyond letting it work its way through the courts.
”Meanwhile these people are losing thousands of dollars in property, they can’t sleep at night, and they are living with a bedbug infestation,” he said of tenants at 205 Nassau St.
Mr. Martindell said the matter also posed a public safety issue because the bedbug-infested furniture residents of the building placed on the curb might be picked up by unsuspecting passersby. Pointing to several prominent “For Rent” signs posted in front of 205 Nassau St. Mr. Martindell also questioned whether Mr. Zeitler was notifying prospective tenants of the bedbug problem.
”What has to be done is we’ve got to post the building so people don’t come in and rent apartments,” he said. “Doing this piecemeal is just delaying the process forever.”
However, while the health department can issue a violation and require the problem to be cleared entirely within thirty days, it apparently can’t keep the landlord from renting to new tenants, or prescribe the type or frequency of treatments.
[Princeton Health Officer David Henry] said it was up to the landlord to hire an exterminator and rectify the problem to the judge’s satisfaction by May 3. If the exterminator concluded residents and their possessions could not remain on the premises in order to fully deal with the bedbug problem, the landlord was responsible for moving the tenants and putting them up until they could return, he said.
”It is the landlord’s responsibility to work out all these details. We are concerned with the tenants as well, but the landlord has to take the appropriate steps,” Mr. Henry said.
He said the Health Department had posted information about bedbugs on its website. [Editor’s note: I am able to see this information listed here, but I’ve notified the PHD that there’s no way to read the items.] “Our main goal from the beginning was to get this resolved and to get it resolved primarily by getting an exterminator to handle the situation,” Mr. Henry said. “We are waiting to find out what progress has occurred and will occur before May 3.”
The laws regarding pests in rental housing don’t really fit bed bugs well.
When this landlord was cited with a violation by the Princeton Health Officer, he was given 30 days to eliminate the bed bug problem. A 5-unit building, heavily infested with bed bugs, can be basically be treated in one of the following ways:
- Thermal remediation treatment* (assuming this is available in Princeton): this is a one-shot treatment which also treats most (but not all) possessions.
- Vikane (sulfuryl fluoride) gas treatment (assuming this is legal and available in Princeton): this is a one-shot treatment which also treats most (but not all) possessions.
- Traditional treatments which may involve steam, pesticide sprays, dusts, and similar methods: this can take repeated treatments at intervals of 7-14 days until the problem is completely gone. Traditional treatments require tenants to do the most extensive preparation, often including washing all clothing on hot and drying it in the dryer, removing clutter, and sometimes treating other items with a Packtite or other methods.
- Cryonite, a freezing technology, is another possible method. However, it is a contact killer and we hear reports of customers needing three or more treatments with this method as well, so the length of treatment may be similar to that of traditional treatments.
The first two options (thermal remediation treatment* and Vikane gas fumigation) do not provide any residual action against bed bugs. However, the only way the landlord could be sure of satisfying the 30-day time limit completely would be to employ a Vikane (sulfuryl fluoride) gas fumigation or thermal treatment.
If these methods were used, tenants and landlord would need to be educated about how to avoid introducing bed bugs again in future. (In addition to educating people, some residual or dust might need to be applied to the structure after the one-shot treatment to help prevent recurrence.)
Of the first three options, traditional treatments take the most time. If a building is severely infested, it would not be unusual for it to need more than a month’s worth of treatments; if the pest control firm is not knowledgeable, or not authorized by the landlord to do exactly what they need to, or the tenants are not cooperative, then treatment could go on indefinitely.
Vikane and thermal treatments can be more expensive than traditional treatments (though, over time, they may be less so, depending on how many times spraying and dusting is required). Many landlords won’t give them a shot, and some may be unable to afford them.
Ultimately, it is one thing for landlords to be told to get roaches or mice under control. Landlords — and even some pest control firms — do not know as much about bed bugs. They may not be equipped with the knowledge or resources to eliminate a problem in a month’s time.
Since this is the case, it may become necessary for local officials to mandate more than the simple fact that bed bugs must be eliminated within a set period of time. Like Boston’s Inspectional Services Department (which mandates a certain pattern of inspection and treatment), other localities may need to give landlords more specific guidelines about treatment.
And landlords should have to disclose the known presence of bed bugs to prospective tenants, especially in cases like this. It’s quite shocking that new tenants may move into vacant units in this building at any time, given that they will not only be exposed to bed bugs, but are in danger of taking bed bugs to a subsequent home.
*After this post appeared, it was pointed out to me by a representative of the Temp-Air corporation that the term “Thermal Remediation” is a registered mark owned by TEMP-AIR, Inc. (reg no. 2652849).
Since I am referring to thermal treatment more generally, the correct term appears to be “thermal treatment.” My apologies to TEMP-AIR, and to other thermal providers, who were by implication left out of the discussion by mistake.