The bed bugs are here. The reported cases of bed bug infestations in Toronto have been increasing yearly and it may be going critical.
Bed bugs have been compared to miniature little vampires. They are small parasitic insects that live on human blood. They feed late at night. During the day, they hide in tiny cracks and crevices. Their bites form small red itchy welts.
They are now all over Toronto, including the greater Beach. It is possible for anyone to become infested with bed bugs. And it gets worse. They can live for long periods of time without feeding. They are adept at hiding, and traveling quickly. They can make a home anywhere there is cracks and crevices – perfect in the older homes in the Beach. They can cause allergic reactions, and real financial hardship. An infestation can cause feelings of shame, dirtiness, and enormous anxiety. They are also in many public spaces such as hospitals, hotels, and libraries. The 2010 Toronto Film Festival almost had the curtain brought down when someone tweeted “there’s a bed bug in my seat.” Their ability to hitch a free ride home on clothing or bags is helping them spread into every community in our city – including ours.
They have been reported at the William Osler Health Centre in Etobicoke, at Cabato Terrace, a senior’s residence, and at the Toronto Reference Library. City records show that bed bug reports in Toronto grew sharply in 2010, with increases in most neighborhoods. In April 2012 City Council debated more funding, but the problem has quickly outpaced government, and council has responded too slowly.
Obviously, prevention is the key. If you Google the topic there is no shortage of information available. Ignoring the problem is the bed bug’s best friend.
Due to feelings of embarrassment associated with bed bugs – even though it has nothing to do with hygiene or where you live – you do not hear much about it publicly. You occasionally see stories in the paper of tenants forced to sleep on their balconies for relief from the agony. However, the problem that dare not speak its name is spreading in our community and that is why I am writing about it. People call their lawyer seeking guidance on the fallout and cost of an infestation, and issues of responsibility.
For those in a private home, you are essentially on your own. While you may wish to call the city to inspect (note a real shortage of inspectors and funding and long delays) you are best to find an extermination company at once. In law, the issue is no different than having a pest or other insect invade your home. You are compelled to have them removed to comply with city by-laws.
Tenants on the other hand are generally in the hands of their landlord who are responsible for providing clean and sanitary premises. Municipal by-laws assist as well. Occupants must keep the premises sanitary and fit for habitation. And Landlords in Ontario must keep the property free from vermin, pests, and insects. Many cases show landlords are slow to respond, or taking the position that it is the tenant who has introduced the problem. The problem of course is worse for tenants where bed bugs can travel between units. In this respect, homeowners are in a better position to protect themselves. Perhaps the only remedy for those without some means is to contact Ontario Legal Aid and find a lawyer who will bring an Application for the tenants. This takes times and bed bugs do not sleep.
A greater issue that is now appearing is the duty to disclose: Does a homeowner have a duty to disclose that there have been bed bugs in the house, much like past evidence of termites? The law is evolving, but judging by the rapid growth of the problem, it may be only a matter of time before that appears in the standard Agreement of Purchase and Sale, or there is a duty to simply advise the prospective purchaser.
And what about all the new condominiums in the Beach? Some will be built in proximity to properties that are rumoured to have had bed bug infestations – and continue to have them. Do purchasers have a right to know that they may be buying in a high bed bug density area? Ironically, considering the battles that have been waged to control the tide of new condos that threaten to seriously change the Beach from its small town feel to glass and steel, the spread of bed bugs may be the ultimate dread of the developers.