Help available to battle bedbug infestations


by James Lyons
In 2008, bedbugs were beginning to hit the public radar in Winnipeg at a time when cities across North America were grappling with the resurgence of the bloodsucking pests. There was intense frustration felt by landlords and tenants who were dealing with bedbugs, due to city and provincial programming not being fully in place to deal with the bedbug epidemic.
 Over the last couple of years, bedbugs have become more of a burden for both property owners and renters. Anyone who owns or rents property in Winnipeg is probably aware of the bedbug threat which is now becoming a mainstream discussion. 
The provincial Bed Bug Strategy and Bed Bug Coalition were formed to co-ordinate province-wide bedbug programming and funding. The programs provide access to low-cost materials, such as mattress covers for certain groups including property owners and non-profits, small grants to community non-profits for in-house prevention or low-cost materials for the communities they represent, as well as the Manitoba Green Retrofit’s Bug “N” Scrub program, which assists people who are not able to prepare their suites for extermination. A variety of educational materials and tools have been created, and the Bed Bug Hotline handles bedbug inquiries as well as dispatches bylaw enforcement personnel to investigate and mediate the responsibilities both landlords and tenants have in the event of an infestation.
There has also been an identified need for bedbug assistance at the community level. This is where I come in. In September of 2012, I began working at the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association as a community bedbug prevention and outreach co-ordinator. My job is to provide a wide variety of services, specifically in the Daniel McIntyre, St. Matthews, Spence, and West Broadway neighbourhoods. I work with landlords, tenants and other agencies in the community, providing advice, advocacy, education and help with access to provincial resources. I also connect community members with mattress covers and other low-cost or free prevention materials for those who need them. 
Another innovative service I am providing is the rental of high-quality vacuum cleaners and a steam cleaner for free, with an ID and a $50 deposit. Steam is an excellent tool to deal with bedbugs, when part of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. 
When dealing with bedbugs, a proactive and preventative approach is best to prevent them from entering the building and spreading. Landlords should have an open conversation with prospective and current tenants about bedbugs, state their expectations surrounding handling used furniture and clothing, and discourage taking discarded furniture. Landlords should also provide some form of education to tenants (some good documents are available from the province) on identifying bedbug infestations, and emphasize the importance of alerting them to infestations immediately. 
In the event of an infestation, landlords are in most cases responsible to hire an extermination professional, whereas tenants are required to co-operate with preparing their suites. Going over each party’s rights and responsibilities may help in discouraging tenants from self-treating (which can make infestations worse), and increase tenant reporting and participation. 
When looking for a new apartment, I encourage prospective tenants to ask the property manager or landlord about what strategies they have in place to deal with bedbugs, and their expectations in dealing with the issue. If they ignore the issue or avoid discussion, this may be a sign of the level of co-operation you may receive in the event your building becomes infested with bedbugs. 
I also remind tenants that an exterminator is not a miracle worker, considering the pesticides that are on the market today and growing pesticide resistance. If you are not prepared to take on an IPM approach with your landlord and do the prep work, your chances of success will be reduced. 
(James Lyons can be reached at 204-774-7005. He will be making a presentation at the Winnipeg Rental Network’s Landlord Advantage workshop on Saturday February 23.  For more information on this free workshop, call 204-417-2039.)