The provincial government now says it will fumigate the bedbug-infested home of a tenant on social assistance, 24 hours after CBC Investigates first reported on the problem.
“There are two apartments in this building,” Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea said in a statement e-mailed Wednesday.
“As of this afternoon, we have the permission of both tenants to proceed and are now making arrangements for fumigation to occur."
Shea’s department is responsible for income support, commonly known as social assistance.
The minister said that, in the case of bedbugs, fumigation can be covered for people on income support who are renting.
In most instances, fumigation would be the homeowner or landlord's responsibility.
“If the landlord is not prepared to respond, we will support the client to address the issue,” Shea noted by e-mail.
“In this instance, the landlord does not appear to want to respond and the Department of Advanced Education and Skills is prepared to cover the cost of fumigation.”
That’s a sharp contrast from the province’s stand before Tuesday’s CBC Investigates report aired.
Both Advanced Education and Skills and Service NL were contacted about the situation.
The province indicated then that it would not act to force a resolution.
Service NL noted that "bedbugs do not carry communicable disease."
Struggling for weeks with infestation
Justin Nurse and his fiancee have been struggling for six weeks with a bedbug infestation in their Hamilton Avenue rowhouse in downtown St. John's.
Nurse traced the source of the problem to the attached home, which is occupied by a woman on social assistance.
Nurse said he tried to advocate on his neighbour's behalf to the City of St. John's and the province, but didn't get anywhere.
And he said the landlord, Frank Connors, declined to address the problem.
CBC Investigates has confirmed the bedbugs have spread four houses down.
On Wednesday, Nurse wondered why it took the province this long to act.
“I’ve called the police on incidents that took place next door,” Nurse said. “I’ve called ambulances, and they come. Ambulances come, police come. But for some reason, when I called social services and said their conditions aren’t good, nobody came. Until this hit the fan.”
He stressed it will take time to fully fix the problem, and wants to ensure there will be follow through and consistent help for his neighbour.
Nurse credited St. John’s South MHA Tom Osborne for his work on the issue over the past 24 hours.
Osborne told CBC Investigates he wants a government policy change to force action on situations like these.
“We need to ensure that if there's a problem property, especially in row housing, for example, that the city and the province step in and say ‘OK, this is spreading to other properties, we have to deal with it,’” Osborne said.
“Instead of just sending out a letter saying we'd like you to take action, send out an order to take action.”