Moving into a new apartment was hectic enough, but for Carleton student Isabel Faria the stress reached new levels when she woke up one morning covered in swollen bed bug bites.
Faria says her first week in her new home last May was dominated by the unexpected infestation. Faria says she believes her landlord knew about the issue but did not inform his tenants and made her pay for fumigation.
Ottawa was listed as the sixth worst Canadian city for bed bugs in 2019 in a list created by Orkin Canada Pest Control, and Faria finds herself among those grappling to deal with the infestation and hold landlords to account.
Faria says she had an allergic reaction to the bites, resulting in hospital visits, necessary hotel stays and absences from the first week of her summer semester studies.
“I got my parents to get in contact with the landlord and told him he had to fumigate,” said Faria. “He didn’t believe the bugs were from his house and refused to pay for the fumigation because he said he couldn’t see the bugs.”
Faria says her family ended up paying for the fumigation. Since the summer, she has been seeking legal advice for how to get out of her lease and receive compensation.
Bed bug fumigation usually costs about $500, but Faria says she is seeking $5,000 to make up for the cost of hotel stays, stress, cleaning services for her clothing, and the replacement of certain belongings.
A statement from Orkin Canada Pest Control said that bed bugs are not associated with cleanliness and do not transmit disease-causing pathogens and germs, but, the company says, “bacterial secondary infections resulting from bed bug bites can be harmful and … sometimes create psychological problems.”
Last month, Faria found more bites on her skin, which she says looked “too familiar.” When she again confronted the landlord, he agreed to let her out of the lease “no questions asked,” Faria recounted.
Faria’s landlord didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview.
But Faria contends the landlord admitted to her he was aware of the bedbugs before she moved in.
“He admitted to me that he was aware that there were bugs in the house before I signed the lease, but he thought they were harmless, so he didn’t feel the need to tell me,” Faria said. “He told me he knew there were cockroaches in the house as well.”
Michael Heimbach represents Abell Pest Control Service in Ottawa and says that bed bugs are consistently on the company’s radar with a bed bug treatment scheduled almost every day of the week.
“Bed bug control is certainly possible when done correctly, but bed bugs are something that are always in our current viewpoint,” Heimbach said.
“It depends on how long they have been let go because they breed very quickly,” he said. “If it’s been left for months it can be a very heavy infestation.”
Regulation 517/06 of the Residential Tenancies Act of Ontario highlights the responsibilities of a landlord in the maintenance of the unit.
The regulation states that the residence “shall be kept reasonably free of rodents, vermin and insects” without further detail.
Faria says that she doesn’t believe her former landlord manages any properties other than the one in which she lived.
Melissa Markwell, a registered nurse in Ottawa, says bed bugs don’t pose significant physical health effects outside of possible allergic reactions. But the psychological impact of an infestation can take a large toll, Markwell said.
Based on her experience, Markwell said that infestations can be accompanied by stigma and judgment because people often associate bed bugs with lower socio-economic status and cleanliness.
“They are super anxiety-provoking and stressful to have,” said Markwell. “The mental impact far outweighs the physical.”
Faria has moved into a new, bug-free apartment and is pursuing legal advice through the University of Ottawa for compensation and to ensure her landlord is held accountable.
“He made me pay for the fumigation originally and for all the hotels,” she said. “I had to buy basically all new clothes and bedding.”
Coupled with the stress and inconvenience of the infestation, Faria says that her main goal is to contact the Landlord and Tenant Board of Ontario and attempt to advocate for people who have been in her predicament.
“Those conditions are literally uninhabitable,” Faria said.
Orkin Canada’s website details how to spot bed bugs, including inspecting the area for “live or dead bed bugs, either adults or nymphs, shed skins and droppings and blood stains on sheets from their feeding” and correctly identifying the bites.
Ottawa Public Health recommends an inspection by a pest control service as soon as there is suspicion of infestation to effectively contain and treat the situation.