Evanston, Illinois Condo Association sues owner, claiming he refused bed bug treatment

by nobugsonme on January 23, 2013 · 2 comments

in Bed Bug Control Techniques, bed bug lawsuits, bed bug prep, bed bugs, bed bugs in condos and coops, illinois

Bed Bug Nymphs

An Evanston, Illinois condo owner is being sued by the Maisonette Condominium Association.  The plaintiff claims the defendant refused to have his unit in a Sherman Avenue building treated for bed bugs, according to the Chicago Tribune.

After bed bugs were discovered in September 2011, the building had treatment in each unit including that of the defendant, James Collins, aged 67.  There were several treatments to his unit, which had a “particularly bad case of bed bugs” according to the Tribune, though it isn’t clear how many treatments occurred or what form they took.

However, the basis for the lawsuit is what happened fourteen months after the problem was first discovered, when bed bugs were again found to be present in the plaintiff’s unit.

The Chicago Tribune reports :

When the exterminator returned to confirm that the building was free of bed bugs on Nov. 13, 2012, Collins’ apartment tested again positive for bugs, according to the lawsuit. A couch and a wooden chair, in particular, were too infested to treat, according to the lawsuit.

The association says that because Collins did not return messages requesting that they treat his unit, he in effect was refusing treatment. Collins did not return a call for comment Tuesday night.

The association is requesting an injunction to treat the unit.

The claim that the apartment “tested positive for bed bugs” strikes my ears as odd.  Perhaps the journalist or lawyers invented this phrase, or perhaps the apartment was subject to an actual “test” (like the DNA swab tests, which are controversial, or a canine inspection– though I’ve never heard of the term “test” being applied to canine inspections).

Oh — and a couch and wooden chair were too infested to treat?  Well, maybe with some technologies, but amazing things can be done with heat.  Of course, if the item is heavily infested, it may have become an aesthetic and hygienic issue beyond actually killing the bed bugs present.

The tenant-who-refuses-treatment is a situation we’ve heard of before, and there have been some publicized lawsuits, notably one in Chicago (Evanston’s neighbor) in 2011, though in that instance, the plaintiff claimed the defendant did not comply with the building’s “efforts to exterminate bed bugs” (including preparations for treatment), apparently from the outset.

From what I hear, this is not an uncommon problem.  It can be very frustrating to others in the building who are complying with the treatment and fear or experience a persistent bed bug problem or later reinfestation.

There’s also the awful situation that the reluctant resident is in — and people have been evicted or forcibly removed from their homes in such cases.  Some people do refuse treatment because they don’t believe they have a problem or don’t believe it’s serious, and in some cases mental health issues hinder the resident seeking or complying with bed bug treatment.

However, it’s worth noting that there may be other situations where people may resist getting bed bug treatment because they need help — for example, they may have difficulty doing the required prep, and may need assistance (physically or financially).

Or a resident may have a health condition which makes spray or dust pesticides harmful.  They may not be aware other options exist for treatment, or may fear those will be too costly.

Some people refuse treatment because they have pets and fear putting them in danger (though a good pest management company should be able to safely treat a home with pets, and to advise a resident whether a pet should be removed from the home briefly).

In any of these cases, it’s important that condo associations (or other building management) are made aware of such situations and try to work with the residents, if possible.

Read more of our articles on bed bugs in condos and coops.


Image credit: “Bed Bug Nymphs” from the National Pest Management Association, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

1 Pest Control Toronto February 5, 2013 at 6:27 pm

This is a tricky one., just like many bed bug cases. Who is to say that even if the extermination does occur, the problem does not return. I have never seen any of these cases been resolved without any complexities. All cases with bed bugs are problematic. Even if the appartment is clean of pests and the tenant brings them home from a hotel, why would it be the landlords’ responsibility to deal with them?

2 nobugsonme February 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Hi Pest Control Toronto,

This story is not about a tenant with a landlord, but about a condominium board suing an owner about bed bugs in his owner-occupied unit.

Since bed bugs can be brought back in after a pest control treatment, are you suggesting that the building should not force the unit owner to get treatment? They should instead wait until the whole building is infested and then put up with that?

I do mention tenants but in the context of a resident refusing treatment. Something must be done, right? Forcing treatment is the minimum, but in some extreme cases where the resident will not comply with treatment and prevention, buildings may need to take action to remove unit owners or tenants.

I don’t really want to get into the whole “why should landlords pay for treatment” argument which (again) is not relevant in this case, however, one good reason for laws which say landlords pay for bed bug treatment is a practical one: do you know what happens when tenants are told they’re responsible for treatment? If you’re in pest control, for real, maybe you know.

At least in cases where people are in low and moderate income categories (and, let’s face it, some in higher income brackets too) won’t pay because they can’t. And some in higher income brackets who can, won’t.

They can and do get around paying for treatment easily, by not reporting the problem. They can put up with it, try self-treating, or even move. They set off foggers, they suffer and spread bed bugs to more tenants.

And when tenants don’t report the problem and it spreads to other units, then you have a situation where those other tenants — the majority of people, those “not responsible for bringing the problem into the building” — are going to be penalized, by being forced to pay for their treatment, just as you’re suggesting the landlord would be under differing laws.

And my question for you is, why should THOSE tenants pay, since they did not bring the problem in?

Any laws based on “who brought the problem in” are doomed to fail. They don’t work. (The common variation on such a law which holds the landlord responsible if the problem is in two or more units almost guarantees tenants wait until two or more units have the problem.)

If tenants are encouraged to report bed bug problems and they’re dealt with promptly and fully, ideally with the first tenant affected, the landlord can protect his/her investment. Most will be able to afford this. If a landlord is going to go bankrupt from one bed bug treatment, then there should be funds available to help (as there would be if the community were hit by a flood or tornado).

However, if landlords and laws insist tenants who bring the problem in are responsible, then good luck finding out about the problem before your building is widely infested. And good luck getting people to pay rather than flee your widely-infested sinking ship of a building.

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