Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How City, State And HUD Promote Bedbug Infestations

Residents of the Gatewood Manor Apartments located at 1238 Lolly Lane in Greensboro have a bedbug problem. They went to their Managing Agent: Harvey Yarbrough but he didn't have the place sprayed.

Now this caught my attention because the Greensboro City Council gave some money to developers on Lolly Lane back in 2013 apparently to get someone to take the property off the City's hands. The strange thing about the Pinegrove Apartments deal is that the County lists that address as a single residence and not an apartment complex.

The other thing I find confusing is that while residents have their mail sent to 1238 Lolly Lane and believe the owner of the Glenwood Manor apartment complex is M & M Properties, PO Box 58, Johnson City, TN. 37605-0058, the Guilford County GIS website shows the address as being 222 Lolly Lane and the owner as being Gatewood Manor Apartments LLC, PO Box 160, Dunn, North Carolina.

Mr Yarbrough's Linkedin profile shows him to be with  M & M Properties in Reidsville, North Carolina. So many layers it's hard to figure these things out.

As the residents are concerned about retaliation since the State Legislature did away with RUCO, I tried calling the local HUD offices to report the issue. All I got was a continuous circle of automated answers that led me to a mail box that doesn't accept messages. Apparently HUD doesn't want to hear it. "Press 3, This caller doesn't subscribe to this service."

(If you'd like to know more about RUCO I highly recommend reading Triad Watch..)

I called the Greensboro Housing Authority, spoke with someone named April and was told the individual tenants would have to call their case workers. I expressed concerns about retaliation from the landlord but she basically blew me off. When I passed that info along to tenants I got the following reply:

"As in the Housing Authority case workers. 'Cause nobody has a case or clue!"

That's exactly the reply I expected I'd get. Most people don't know how to do these things-- especially those who are most likely to be effected.

One of the things that April told me was that Landlords cannot hold tenants responsible for the cost of removing bedbugs. I asked April if she would send that info to me but she said she would not. An online search produced  Bed Bug Notice Allows Owners to Shift Cost to Tenants and Evict Them:

"The new notice deletes a page and a half-long section, “Tenant Rights and Responsibilities.” Eliminated as result is the clear direction that “The tenant will not be expected to contribute to the cost of the [bed bug infestation] treatment effort.” Another section of the August notice also stated that “An owner may not charge a tenant to cover the cost of bed bug treatment.” The new notice instead opens the door to allowing owners to charge tenants for the cost of treating bed bug infestations if it seems to fit HUD’s Family Model Lease provisions pertaining to tenant payment of damages or noncompliance."

Infestations of bedbugs move three ways. The first way is by crawling through tiny cracks between walls, ceilings and floors just as roaches, ants and other insects sometimes do. Their eggs are tiny and just because you don't see any bedbugs doesn't mean there aren't any there. Eggs laid today can go unnoticed and hatch months from now starting the cycle all over again.

The second way is hitchhiking on people. If you or someone you know goes into a bedbug infested house there is a possibility the little bloodsuckers could hop on and hitch a ride back home to your home.

The third way is in used furniture. You know all those huge piles of furniture and possessions you see on the sides of the road in Greensboro's poorer neighborhoods. Residents don't put them there-- landlords do. And landlords do this despite the fact that it is against the law to do so in Greensboro. And then someone comes along and sees a couch or chair better than the one her or she has at home, loads it in the car and hauls couch, bedbugs and all back into their rented home. As one of the residents of Lolly Lane wrote to me:

"The exterminator charges the resident to cover their mattresses in order to protect them for one year of simultaneously infesting, lol! As in my friends case she has brand new mattresses! I'm irate that no one is seemingly accountable for the transference of these bugs nor co-spraying these 4 unit buildings. Where in God's name does this start and end? Un-freaking-believable. Around here infested stuff goes to yes, Goodwill, and to the curb where it is picked up within minutes!"

I had to get clarification on this covering of the mattress. It seems the exterminator places the mattress inside a so called special treated fabric that keeps the mattress safe from bedbug infestations for up to a year. That said, there's nothing stopping the bedbugs from getting in sheets, blankets, quilts and other linen. 

The reference to Goodwill brings up yet another way bedbugs are transferred. A lot of sellers of used furniture be they on Craigslist, at flea markets and even small retail shops can't pass on the opportunity to pick up a free piece of furniture some landlord has set on the side of the street and sell it fot what amounts to a 100% mark-up. And do these sellers treat this furniture in any way to be certain that it is free of bedbugs and bedbug eggs? If you answered yes you are a total dumbass.

My mother tells the story of how in 1939 when she was 7 years old, her family successfully ridded their 1866 log home of bedbugs. The first step was for my grandfather to build a new house next door. Being he was a master carpenter and owned a sawmill that was right up his alley.

But when the new house was finished the hard work began.

The few pieces of upholstered furniture they owned were set out in the yard and burned along with every pillow in the house. So were the straw ticks and feather tops that made up all the mattresses in the house. Grandma was a tiny thing and my mother was the oldest of 7 children and as none of her brothers had been born the heavy lifting fell mostly on Grandpa.

But my tiny Grandma worked her ass off as well.

Every item of clothing had to be washed by hand in a wash tub against a scrub board, heating the water carried from a spring across the road on an open fire. And using hard lie soap as that was the only kind of soap they knew how to make. Every sheet, blanket, heavy hand-made quilt, bed spread, handkerchief, napkin (no one had paper napkins back then) everything made of any kind of fabric had to be hand washed and dried on a clothes line before it could be moved into the new house.

All the dishes, pots, pans, silverware, everything in the kitchen had to be carried outside and washed before it could be moved into the new house.

Every piece of wooden and metal furniture, every chair, table, brass bed, you name it, was wiped down with kerosene then washed with lie soap.

Then new pillows had to be made by hand and new straw ticks and feather tops stuffed and placed on the beds. My Grandmother kept those straw ticks and feather tops right up until she died and they were without a doubt the most comfortable beds I ever slept on.

The few books they had were left in the abandoned log house throughout the winter as mountain winters are cold enough to kill bed bugs. Unfortunately, it rarely gets cold enough in Greensboro to kill bed bugs. 

The log house remained abandoned for the next 30 years. I remember playing in it as a child. In the late 60s it was sold to a museum in Pennsylvania who loaded it up and hauled it up north. Turns out it was built by a Union Army General turned carpetbagger.

The City of Greensboro is going to have to take steps to work towards the eradication of bedbugs. One thing the City can do is start enforcing the law and requiring landlords to actually haul these houses full of old furniture to the landfill. Stop this stuff from hitting the curb and it won't end up spreading the bedbugs. While landlords might not like it their cost would be less in the long run.

The City could also set up some sort of inspection and certification program for businesses selling used furniture. Companies that sell large volumes could build ovens to heat treat their items for 7 minutes of exposure to 46 °C (115 °F) or by gassing them with Carbon Dioxide. That idea won't win me any friends.

Bedbugs were eradicated in the US in the 1940s but have returned and promise to be worse than ever before because today's bedbugs managed to build up tolerance to the chemical pesticides traditionally used to treat bed bugs. They'll eventually build up a tolerance to whatever they're being treated with today.

Right now bed bugs appear to mostly be a problem for renters and not so much for people who own their own homes but things won't stay that way. If the City of Greensboro doesn't take action bed bugs could become a problem for everyone-- even Irving Park. It's as simple as your child going to spend the night with a friend or having friends over to spend the night.

So what was all that stuff in the beginning about  Pinegrove Apartments? What is currently called Gatewood Manor Apartments used to be called Pinegrove Apartments. For whatever reason the City of Greensboro ended up owning the Pinegrove Apartments. Then in 2013 the Greensboro City Council voted to pay $4,410.00 to the new owners of the Pinegrove Apartments to take the property off the City's hands. The new owners did some remodeling, changed the name to Gatewood Manor Apartments and reopened as a Section 8 HUD insured apartment complex for the elderly and disabled.

And for almost a year they've had bed bugs.

Meanwhile, while in Greensboro we pay developers to take properties off our hands, and giving away entire city blocks to wealthy developers, in nearby Winston-Salem bidding wars are going on for city owned properties.

That's the way it's supposed to work.