Residents at a Manitoba Housing complex say their units have been infested with cockroaches for months — something Manitoba Housing says is related to some tenants refusing to comply with pest removal efforts.

Joe Schrader, Manitoba Housing complex, cockroaches

Joe Schrader's suite has had a cockroach problem for five months, he says. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

Joe Schrader lives in a one bedroom suite in an apartment on Kennedy Street run by Manitoba Housing. Much to his chagrin, he's been forced to share his place with thousands of unwanted guests over the past five months.

"They crawl on your chest, your face, in your bed, on your blanket," Schrader said, adding the building also has a bedbug problem.

'This building is absolutely infested.' - Nicholas Matczuk

On a daily basis, cockroaches emerge from hiding, scale the walls, scuttle across the floor and swarm under the fridge, he said.

"Once I flick the light on there's like a hundred of them: big ones, little ones, super teeny ones," Schrader said. "I have friends come over, all of a sudden you see four or five bugs, I'm embarrassed. They don't want to come back."

Manitoba Housing has been bringing exterminators into the complex about once a month for the last few months to deal with the issue. Contact aerosol, bait, insecticide dust and residual insecticides have been applied in problem areas between 10 and 14 days apart, the organization said.

But things could be running smoother.

"Treatments have been complicated by tenant refusals," a spokesperson with Manitoba Housing said in a statement.

"Tenant refusals for cockroach treatments in 444 Kennedy Street are at the highest point this year; we are unlikely to make progress as long as this is the case."

 'You need full tenant co-operation'

Taz Stuart with Poulin's Pest Control Service said if even one person leaves food out in the complex, the entire floor can become a cockroach magnet.

Joe Schrader fridge, cockroach, Manitoba Housing

Joe Schrader says the cockroaches come out of hiding at night and congregate beneath his fridge. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

"It's a difficult problem and the control products we have, it takes time," Stuart said. "To make things better you need full tenant co-operation."

Stuart added that German cockroaches, the species found in the Kennedy Street building, are cunning, resilient and hard to kill.

"They'll actually hide 70 to 80 per cent of the time in the dark, they feed at night," he said. "If you leave dishes in your sink, they'll actually crawl into your sink, they'll feed on it."

The species is also a prolific breeder. Stuart said that if you had just two breeding pairs and no control in a building, those couples could produce 400,000 offspring.

"German roaches will be a big problem in the future," he said, adding he thinks Canada needs to approve the use of harsher chemical treatments to solve infestations. "I personally believe it'll be the No. 1 pest, even over bed bugs."

'Screaming meemies'

Nicholas Matczuk, another tenant in the building, confirmed the problem isn't localized to Schrader's suite.

"I see them often enough to get the screaming meemies, it's a little freaky," Matczuk said. "This building is absolutely infested."

'You get angry, you want to say something, but then they're going to evict you.' - Joe Schrader

Matczuk said that while some residents are probably less tidy than others, the problem is bad enough that cockroaches are found throughout the complex.

"Try to be vigilant, but doesn't really matter," he said. "They still find a way to get in and harass."

Cockroaches, Manitoba Housing unit

The problem is bad enough that Joe Schrader says he'd almost rather sleep outdoors some nights. (CBC)

Health Canada says cockroaches can contaminate food and spread disease, which doesn't bode well for people like Schrader with multiple health conditions.

Schrader has cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, epilepsy, heart failure, lung disease and is in a wheelchair.

He said that while Manitoba Housing does have some nice places for those in need, his building has problems bad enough to make him want to move.

'I'm stuck'

"I can't afford to go out and get a nice house or something like that. I'm stuck," said Schrader. "Now that this place is infested, I have to leave my air conditioner on, I open up my windows when I go out, just hoping it gets cold enough they'll go next door."

Schrader said some nights, when he feels he can't escape the cockroaches, he feels like he would be better off spending the night outdoors.

"Sometimes I'd rather sleep in that park. At least I'm not going to have no critters on me or worry about them," he said. "I don't know what to do."

'Lower class of citizen'

Schrader added that he doesn't think Manitoba Housing has been doing enough to rid the building of roaches. He said he's complained several times and doesn't feel Manitoba Housing has taken his concerns seriously.

Cockroaches

Joe Schrader says German cockroaches are taking over his suite in a Manitoba Housing complex.

"It's like because we're here, we're like a lower class of citizen. And you get angry, you want to say something, but then they're going to evict you and throw you out," Schrader said.

"I don't know what they'll do to me for this. I really don't care. [As] long as they get their butt in gear and do something about it."

Manitoba Housing maintains that typically cockroach infestations can be resolved "in a timely fashion" when all tenants agree to have their suites treated. A spokesperson added Manitoba Housing is continuing to seek support from those tenants who have refused cockroach removal treatments thus far. 

"It will be a shared effort of both Manitoba Housing and our tenants to rid the building of these pests," the spokesperson said.

Forty-five of 2,878 buildings run by Manitoba Housing (or 1.6 per cent) are currently receiving some form of cockroach treatment, the organization said.

With files from CBC's Erin Brohman