No doubt something has to be done about the bedbug pandemic. Landlords who encounter the pests suffer from unhappy tenants and others are stepping up inspections and cleaning efforts to reduce outbreaks.
Yet, when it comes to eradicating bedbugs all eyes seem to turn to landlords as the enforcers. Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo is proposing that any landlord who wishes to renew a rental license obtain a bedbug inspection on the rental property. DiNovo refers to this solution as “self-funded” because landlords will pay a fee for every inspection.
Many feel Ontario landlords are already overburdened with regulation, and that they are among the victims of this troubling issue.
While landlords have a duty to provide a safe, healthy environment for tenants, which implies a unit free from pest infestations, many experts are blaming the sudden surge in bedbugs on the government’s banning of the pesticides used to control them in the first place.
Ontario Property Manager Vincent Shanahan points out, “If the banning of pesticides is the major contributor to the problem, and landlords are forced to clean up the infestations, then there should be a fund established by the government for landlords to turn to for compensation.”
It is impossible to trace how bedbugs get into a particular rental unit. The bugs can travel easily from one unit to the next, and have also been know to remain dormant for over a year – the time it takes for a tenant to come to the end of their lease agreement and move on. While the proposed law requires accountability on the part of landlords, there is no corresponding requirement that a tenant report to their new landlord that they found bedbugs in the same furnishings they are about to introduce into another building.
Shanahan points out another problem: a landlord faces an almost impossible task when treating bedbugs, because the unit has to be adequately prepared for the pest control treatment. This is work that the tenant must perform. But when it comes time for treating an outbreak, Shanahan finds that the tenants are never ready. “When you can’t force the tenants to do their part properly, how can a landlord ensure successful remediation?” he asks. Shanahan finds that the LTB system moves slowly and is too tenant-friendly to be of any use in resolving the situation.
In addition, the newest pesticides don’t seem to work. DDT was a major deterrent to bedbugs in the past, but was found too toxic for widespread use. At that time, however, bedbug populations had been severely reduced. As a result, few manufacturers focused on an alternative to DDT in treating bedbugs. Landlords are now faced with paying for costly treatments that may have a minimal affect on the bugs. Leaving any adults alive to breed or eggs to hatch literally guarantees a re-infestation.
Still, Shanahan attempts to manage any potential threat of bedbugs in his properties. “I have distributed information sheets to my tenants concerning the bedbug infestation in North America, and how to recognize and treat infestations. However, try posting all that information in the common lobbies, etc., and see how many new tenants you will obtain!”
Vincent G. Shanahan is President of Alpha Omega Property Managementin Barrie, Ontario, providing expert property management and consulting services for landlords. Mr. Shanahan was invited to appear on the television program “Inside Toronto Real Estate”, and is an advocate for landlord rights throughout Ontario.