City to consider special bedbug bylaw

by Kirsten VanderJagt |

Fri., Nov 13, 2015 | By Matthew Van Dongen

The city will explore creating a special bedbug bylaw designed to compel landlords to meet a higher standard of treatment for infestations.

The move comes on the heels of a new city bedbug-battling strategy — and an appeal from CityHousing Hamilton for enforceable treatment standards across the city.

The city's social housing agency recently beefed up its protocols for dealing with infestations in its 7,100 units, but argues the plague of night-biting insects won't abate without a city-wide effort.

Right now, the city's property standards bylaw says landlords "shall keep the property free of infestation by pests," but it doesn't outline any minimum standards for treatment.

"There needs to be a guideline that everyone follows," said Denise Toth, who rents in the Tindale Court area and heads a local tenant association.

Toth, who didn't want to identify the building she lives in, said she uses a gas mask to monitor different pest control companies that work in her unit. She and her fellow tenants argue the quality of treatments can differ dramatically — and sometimes, followup treatments are late or don't happen at all.

CityHousing identified a lack of followup as a key problem, particularly in apartment buildings, because the insects would scatter to other units during treatment, eggs would hatch and the cycle would begin again.

Now, the agency's in-house process emphasizes mandatory followup inspections and repeat treatments as needed. That's the level of service the agency has suggested should be standard for all landlords, public or private, said Coun. Chad Collins, who chairs the CityHousing board.

"At the moment, we don't have any minimum standards. The bylaw is very generic and basically just says deal with the problem," Collins said. "For some landlords, maybe that means getting a can of Raid and spraying the baseboards."

Having a municipal bylaw that sets minimum treatment standards would be "unique," but certainly worth exploring, said director of health protection Rob Hall. "Having something a little more rigid might help encourage landlords who are reticent about (treatments)."

But he emphasized co-operation between tenants and landlords is the best guarantee of successful bedbug treatment.

While public health inspectors responded to 456 bedbug complaints last year and 401 so far this year, those investigations resulted in only seven orders and no charges under the bylaw. In a lone case, the city sent in its own contractor to do treatment on a bad infestation and added the cost to the landlord's tax bill.

"Education is the critical component, for landlords and tenants," he said, suggesting a majority of owners and residents genuinely want to help fix the problems.

Toth agreed, applauding the city's emphasis on combating the "stigma" once associated with having bedbugs, which can appear anywhere from high-end suites to libraries.

But she added some tenants — the elderly, the disabled — need extra help preparing properly for treatments, which can include moving heavy furniture, removing electrical wall plates and major laundry efforts. "Everyone needs to do their part, but sometimes, people need help," she said.

Tenants in First Place have taken that attitude to heart, with a new volunteer group officially going public Monday that offers advice and encouragement to tenants dealing with infestation. Members will even help strip beds or move furniture before a treatment.