Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=214812
Story Retrieval Date: 10/25/2014 3:44:09 AM CST

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Surging bed bug problem needs tenant-landlord cooperation, experts say

by Jonathan Greig
Jan 30, 2013


One of Chicago’s largest property management companies says it has no problem with a proposed city ordinance toughening requirements for landlords to deal with bed bugs, but they made it clear that the issue can’t only be addressed on their end.

“Landlords and their pest control experts can only treat bed bugs with full cooperation from residents … and one-sided legislation only opens the doors for tenant rights lawyers to take advantage -- and only they win,” said Mike Glasser, president of Magellen Properties in Rogers Park.

Three aldermen are refusing to take Chicago’s ranking as the No. 1 bed bug city in the U.S. lying down. On Tuesday they introduced legislation that would fine landlords up to $1,000 per day if they don’t deal with infestations.

“The main thing needed is education, as no amount of legislation will cure this problem,” Glasser said. He has dealt with bed bugs in his buildings a couple times, and even with cooperative, educated tenants, it took three or four tries to rid the building of the pests.

Other property managers declined to comment on the issue of bed bugs or the proposed ordinance.

Tenants have long grumbled that landlords are unwilling to take the necessary, and often costly, steps to rid units of the pests.

Orkin, the national pest control company, recently called Chicago the No. 1 bed bug city in the country, displacing Cincinnati. That was enough to spur Aldermen Ray Suarez (31st), chairman of the Housing Committee, Debra Silverstein (50th) and Harry Osterman (48th) to introduce the proposed ordinance.

Bed bugs are flat, reddish-brown and about the size of an apple seed. They feed on blood of both humans and animals. They don’t carry diseases, but they multiply rapidly and their bites are often painful. A number of citizens spoke during the council meeting, describing in great detail their physical struggles dealing with the pests and the bites they leave behind.

Bed bugs are a problem worldwide and are resurging, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, Orkin’s parent company, Rollins, which operates eight pest control brands nationwide, said its bed bug extermination business increased nearly 33 percent compared with 2011.

“Based on the diversity of cities on the list, we all need to be very cautious when we travel—whether it is business or pleasure, or to visit family, friends or vacation. We need to be vigilant wherever we are and take the proper precautions,” said Orkin entomologist and technical services director Ron Harrison.

Along with guidelines for the removal of bed bug infested items, the ordinance requires landlords to hire pest management professionals as many times as necessary to eliminate the bugs. They also have to maintain a record of their efforts.

Under current law, landlords only have to deal with bed bugs if two or more units have an infestation, and they don’t have to show documentation that the issue has been addressed. The proposed penalty could reach $1,000 per day.

Suarez told the council “no one is immune from this problem.”

Both tenants and landlords need to make more of an effort to deal with the infestation properly, according to the Centers for Disease Control website. The CDC says the best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation. That’s something tenants can do. If tenants suspect an infestation, the agency recommends that tenants contact their landlord or a professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs.