02 Sep Bed bugs and rooming houses

Rooming houses, at least in Winnipeg, are large old houses divided into small rooms/suites with a common kitchen and bathroom. The rents are very cheap and the quality is typically very low. These buildings are dismal places to live – no one lives there by choice (I know of two exceptions to the above but they are very rare). The tenants living in these rooms typically have mental health issues or addiction issues which preclude them from finding nicer accommodations. For example a competent single poor person could find an equally competent single poor person and share a nice 1 bedroom suite in a nicer building for equal or lesser rent. But folks living in rooming houses find it difficult to make arrangements like that because of their personal issues.

Rooming houses are highly likely to become infested with bed bugs because the tenants are prone to risky activities such as dumpster diving, visiting shelters, and visiting or receiving visits from other people living in infested suites. The landlords typically ignore these bed bugs or attempt to self treat with little success. For example, The rooming house behind my own home has had bed bugs for at least 7 years and I decided this building would make a good test for my experimental bed bug traps. I put these traps under a single bed and caught 2000 bed bugs in 6 days. I asked the tenant if there had been an improvement and the reply was “they slowed down a bit”. I then heated this tenant’s bed (the mattress had hundreds of brass holes in the side allowing easy access to the interior) and replaced his mattress with a different one salvaged from another location. I cut the infested mattress open and found the bodies and shells of bed bugs to resemble sand in a sand box!! The tenant was then very happy with subsequent sleeps.

Addressing bed bugs in these rooming houses is close to mission impossible. Firstly the self treatment attempts and the sheer volume of bugs has pushed the bugs into the walls, floors, and ceilings which are impossible to treat. Secondly a successful treatment would include cooperation from the tenants but this is impossible because of the mental health and addiction issues. Even if a single tenant is able to cooperate the neighbouring tenants would not cooperate which negates the single cooperative effort. The landlord recognizes this difficulty and refuses to treat because he/she knows that whatever money spent will be wasted. Even if by some miracle the bugs were eradicated the tenants would simply reinfest the home in short order.

The tenant could complain to the Residential tenancies branch and the landlord would be forced to spend the money. But because the tenants have many personal issues such as being prone to drunkeness or being excessively loud the landlord simply evicts the complainers for these other faults. As such the rooming house tenants can choose between homelessness and bugs. I am not sure which of the two choices is worse.