No bite for regulations on bedbug infestations

A St. John's couple is crying out for help as they struggle with a bedbug infestation, while the city and province say they have no power to force the owner of the attached home next door to address the problem.

CBC Investigates: governments abandon bedbug infested residents

CBC Investigates: Governments abandon rowhouse residents as they deal with pest problem 4:25

A St. John's couple is crying out for help as they struggle with a bedbug infestation, while the city and province say they have no power to force the owner of the attached home next door to address the problem.

Justin Nurse and his fiancee live in a rowhouse on Hamilton Avenue in downtown St. John's.

Justin Nurse and his fiancee have been forced to bag their clothes as they deal with a bedbug infestation in their home. (CBC)
Nurse told CBC Investigates that the bedbugs have hijacked his life.

"It's tough,” he said. “You're talking about waking up every hour and a half. Sleep deprivation starts to take its toll.”

The couple discovered the bedbugs six weeks ago, when they returned from vacation.

Nurse called pest control, and has had the house sprayed twice since then — without success.

"[Orkin] said they cannot spray anymore until the source is dealt with, because what we are going to do is creating a larger, stronger strain of this parasite," Nurse said.

An August report by Orkin recommended that the adjacent residence be treated for bedbugs to stop them from spreading.

But no one is offering to help Nurse's neighbour, a woman on social assistance who he said is living in squalor.

"We went next door and found them throwing the mattress out,” Nurse said.

“And where we had maybe five or six [bedbugs] that we were able to find, there were hundreds within a foot of her mattress.”

Nurse said conversations with the woman's landlord, Frank Connors, have not resulted in any action.

"He said — and I quote — 'It's welfare's problem, welfare will pay for that.' And I said, 'No, I don't think they will.' And he said, 'I gave her a can of Raid.'"

Nurse said the tenant told him she has “germs” in her home.

"I said, 'No, you have bedbugs.' And she said, 'I can't complain because I don't want to lose my house.'"

Nurse said he tried to advocate on his neighbour's behalf to the City of St. John's and the provincial government — both Service NL and the department responsible for social services — but didn't get anywhere.

The bedbugs have now spread to other attached rowhouses, he said.

"She needs help,” Nurse said. “It's not a judgment, it's a fact. And she's not getting it.”

Who's responsible?

City officials said their hands are tied, because of how the province categorizes the pests.

“The provincial Department of Health identifies bedbugs as not being a health hazard as they do not harbor or transmit pathogens that cause disease,” city communications officer Shelley Pardy wrote in an e-mail to CBC News.

“As such the city does not have authority to issue directives to exterminate for bedbugs.”
Bedbugs like this one are affecting a number of rowhouses in downtown St. John's. (CBC)

The city said it has received six complaints about the house in question since last November, all of a “property concern” nature.

According to Pardy, the four most recent complaints — which occurred between Aug. 17 and Sept. 20 — reported bedbugs at 95 Hamilton Ave. that were coming in to neighbouring properties.

The province also won’t act to force a resolution to the problem.

Residential Tenancies would only become involved if a complaint is made by a landlord or a tenant, not on a complaint from a third party, such as a neighbour.

City officials told CBC News that Service NL delivered a letter to landlord Frank Connors in September. 

The city said the letter contained information about bedbugs, and suggested that the owner contact a pest control company to exterminate them.

Service NL officials say they are unable to provide a copy of the letter to CBC News, requiring instead that a formal access-to-information be filed. That process can take up to 30 days.

The statement from the city "accurately explains why government suggests methods for the homeowner to exterminate the bedbugs," Service NL spokesperson Vanessa Colman-Sadd said in an e-mail. "Bedbugs do not carry communicable disease."

CBC News reached the landlord by phone last week. After a reporter identified himself and the reason for the call, the line was disconnected. Subsequent messages weren't returned.

Clothes in garbage bags

Nurse and his fiancee now live with all of their clothes in garbage bags.

There are sticky pads on the floor under their mattress to help keep some of the bugs from creeping up onto the bed.

Nurse said he has spent $1,700 so far battling the infestation, with no end in sight.

"You're powerless, and these things are just going to move from house to house," he said.

"We're going to have to move out, and at 37 years old, I'm going to have to move into my mother's house, and take my future wife with me and... wait."


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