bc-090330-go-public1

Robin and Susanne Spinell have been living with bedbugs for a year. ((CBC))

A Vancouver couple whose West End apartment building has been infested with bedbugs blames their Toronto-based landlord for making the problem worse.

"From the beginning, it was just handled terribly. They really took their time," tenant Robin Spinell said. "Proper pest-control technique involves having no more than 10 to 14 days between treatment. That has probably happened maybe once or twice in the entire last year," he added.

The Spinells are among hundreds of Vancouverites affected by an invasion of bedbugs in the prime but aging downtown neighbourhood. Until recently, the pests were more commonplace in the city's transient, drug-infested Downtown Eastside.

"There are tenants all over the West End suffering," Robin Spinell said. "It's absolutely ridiculous by any stretch of the imagination that this kind of thing can happen in our so-called international city that is getting ready for the Olympics."

Numerous treatments didn't work

Spinell and his wife, Susanne, live in a highrise at 990 Broughton St. The building is managed by Canadian Apartment Properties Real Estate Investment Trust, or CAP REIT, a publicly traded company and one of Canada's largest owners of rental accommodations.

bc-090330-go-public2

A bedbug caught recently by the Spinells in their bathroom. ((CBC))

Robin Spinell said the pests first appeared in the couple's unit a year ago. He said he thinks they came from an adjacent suite where the tenant had frequent guests.

The couple said their landlord responded at first by treating only the suites where tenants had complained. Their unit was sprayed by exterminators 10 times in the last 11 months with limited success, they said, because after each spraying, new bedbugs would come in from other untreated areas of the building.

"The minute we got a notice of another spraying, I was in tears," Susanne Spinell said. "I was so upset, thinking, 'Oh my God, I have to move everything again.' "

With each spraying, tenants have to seal up their belongings in plastic bags and move around furniture.

The Spinells maintain that the exterminator hired by the landlord did a substandard job for a cut-rate price.

bc-090330-go-public3

The west-end apartment overlooking some of Vancouver's prime real estate. ((CBC))

"The fact that we have been sprayed 10 times is a good indication of how ridiculous this has been," Robin Spinell said.

CAP REIT acknowledged that several apartments in the building have been affected, but spokesperson Patricia MacPherson said the company is doing the best it can with a difficult situation.

"Some tenants did not notify us [about their bedbugs] right away — but as soon as we did hear about issues in any of the suites, we did respond and arrange for treatment immediately," MacPherson said.

Some tenants — unlike the Spinells — refused to allow exterminators in to their units, she said, while others didn't have their suites properly prepared.

Landlord blames 'unco-operative' tenants

"The reason treatments aren't successful is generally unco-operative tenants," MacPherson said. "A lot of tenants were not co-operative at times, and we've had to spray their suites many, many, many times, and they are still being unco-operative in terms of prepping."

bc-090330-go-public4

Domenic Losito of Vancouver Coastal Health tells reporter Kathy Tomlinson that landlords aren't doing enough about the bedbug problem. ((CBC))

The Spinells have had numerous sleepless nights since the infestation began and have become obsessed over bedbugs, they said.

"Ten months of continuous stress," Robin Spinell said. "They're running around in your bed, in your frame, and you can see them, you can feel them. They are filling up with your blood."

The pests are now endemic in Vancouver's West End, according to a website called the Bedbug Registry. Users have registered 148 recent complaints about bedbugs in dozens of buildings in the small, high-density, high-rent area — considered some of Vancouver's prime real estate with stunning views.

"You wake up at night, and even though there might be not a bug, you just feel the sensation of something is crawling on you," Susanne Spinell said.

Domenic Losito, regional director of health protection for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said the bedbugs are being allowed to flourish by landlords who cut corners and tenants who refuse to co-operate with treatments.  In these cases, he said, tenants' rights — to refuse landlords entry, for example — are working against their best interests.

bc-090330-go-public5

The Spinells' clothing and other belongings in garbage bags to keep pests out. ((CBC))

"The bedbug problem cries out for more frequent inspections by the landlord and more co-operation by the tenants for prepping, allowing someone in to do the treatment. And it seems to be going the opposite direction," Losito said.

Olympics will bring more bugs: health authority

Losito predicts that unchecked, the problem will only get worse in 2010 because of the number of visitors during the Olympics — visitors who could bring more bugs or spread the ones that are already there. Health authorities can't take enforcement action because the critters don't spread disease, so they're not considered a public health hazard, he said.

"We've got a problem here without a ready solution in legislation," Losito said.

The stigma of acknowledging that one's home has become infested means not enough people are talking about how prevalent the bugs have become, particularly in more established neighborhoods, he added.

"Most people wouldn't want to scream it out at the office that 'I've got a bedbug problem!' " Losito said.

"People are scared to tell that they are having bedbugs, and then they just move and carry the problem with them," Susanne Spinell said.

"It's just increasingly getting worse," her husband said. "Really, the politicians, they have to do something about it or it will explode next year when the Olympics come."