Sunday, December 8, 2013
BY GILLIAN GRAHAM
Within days, she realized she was wrong: The building had bedbugs. The infestation spread quickly through the building, and since March tenants and building management have been working with a pest control company to eliminate the bedbugs.
It's been a slow process that relies heavily on the cooperation of tenants -- most of them elderly or disabled -- to wash all of their clothing and remove clutter from their apartments before the pests are killed with chemicals or high heat.
"It's been awful," said Girouard, 59. "It just makes your skin crawl. There isn't anyone I know who wants to lie in bed and get bit by bugs."
While the company that manages Girouard's building at 87 Alfred St. has been responsive to the problem, that is not always in the case, says Roby Fecteau, Biddeford's director of code enforcement.
Prompted by a growing number of complaints about bedbugs, sometimes as many as 10 per week, Fecteau plans to propose an ordinance that would give his staff authority to address whenever landlords or tenants are not doing their part to get rid of a bedbug infestation.
If Biddeford adopts an ordinance to deal with bedbugs, it would not be alone, said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. Twenty-two states and a growing number of counties and municipalities now have regulations outlining areas of responsibility for landlords and tenants dealing with infestations, she said.
What the law says
Bedbugs -- hard-to-kill insects that feed on blood -- appeared in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, but disappeared for decades before re-emerging about 10 years ago. They spread easily, hiding in dark, protected areas like the seams of mattresses and behind baseboards.
Because bedbugs are not known to carry disease and are not considered a health threat, there is no central reporting agency that collects national statistics on the presence of the insect. Maine does not track reports of bedbugs, nor do most municipalities.
There are 22 states with laws related to bedbugs, although the scope of the legislation varies greatly. In Illinois, the Railroad Sanitation Act requires railcars used by the public to be free of bedbugs, while Iowa only requires migrant labor camps to establish bedbug control measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Most laws deal with requirements around notification and treatment of infestations in hotels, motels and schools.
Maine and Rhode Island are the only New England states with laws related to bedbugs. While Maine's law outlines landlord and tenant responsibilities during infestations, Rhode Island's law only requires commercial pesticide applicators who treat bedbugs to be certified by the state.
Maine's law outlines the responsibilities of landlords and tenants when a bedbug infestation is suspected or identified: Tenants are obligated to notify landlords of bedbugs, and landlords in turn are required to inspect for them within five days. Both tenants and landlords are required to cooperate in the process or rid the building of bedbugs.
"It's very difficult for us to do any sort of enforcement with the way the law is written," Fecteau said, noting that under state law, it is tenants who can bring a landlord to court, not the city.
Climbing number of complaints
During the past few months, the number of complaints about bedbugs in apartment buildings in Biddeford has crept up from occasional to as many as 10 per week, Fecteau said. Most complaints come from tenants in multi-unit apartment buildings in densely populated neighborhoods.
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