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Aldermen poised to put the bite on bedbug problem

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Updated: March 2, 2013 7:01AM



Chicago is poised to declare bedbugs a “public nuisance” — and require landlords, hotels and businesses to spend whatever it takes to eradicate the pests — under a proposed aldermanic crackdown now headed for a re-write.

“If I were able to take my shirt and clothes off, you could see what the bugs ... did to me. They’ve practically eaten up my body,” said Mello Sam Clora, who says his apartment in a West Side senior citizen building has been treated for bedbugs three times in recent weeks.

The City Council’s Health and Environmental Protection Committees took hours of troubling testimony Tuesday but did not vote on the ordinance championed by Aldermen Ray Suarez (31st), Harry Osterman (48th) and Debra Silverstein (50th).

The reason is the legislation raises more questions than it answers.

“A lot of people think we’re being heavy-handed,” Suarez said.

The Chicago Association of Realtors complained about the10-day timetable and financial burden of requiring landlords to provide “cloverleaf” extermination services for a unit infested with bedbugs and the apartments above, below and on either side.

Bedbug-infested hotels, motels and other businesses that rent “transient” rooms would be prohibited from accepting other guests until the bugs are exterminated and the “infestation” is over. That’s even as experts claim that bedbugs can “live in the walls” for as long as 18 months.

“We’re asking a lot of people who may be just barely making it,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

Ald. Jo Ann Thompson (16th) focused on the requirement that mattresses infested with bedbugs be wrapped in plastic before disposal.

“Everybody is not gonna do right. They’re just not gonna do it,” Thompson said.

“These mattresses are in alleys. The trucks come by and pick them up, people scavenging the neighborhood. They pick them up. Then, they take `em to used places. They don’t care. Whatever they can hide, they hide. We have nobody to go out and monitor the second-hand stores that sell these mattresses to people. Thus, the problem continues on. So, why can’t we move to have it illegal to sell second-hand mattresses, period?”

Suarez countered, “Not everybody can afford to go out and buy a brand new Sealy Posturepedic that runs $1,200 or $800.”

Thompson replied, “Everybody can’t afford to wrap it up, either.”

Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) warned that a Chicago crackdown could give birth to “fly-by-night pest control companies” that City Hall is ill-equipped to regulate.

Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), a former deputy buildings commissioner, noted that bedbugs are “difficult to detect during the daytime, normal working hours,” when most city inspectors are on the clock.

Daniel Wondaal, vice president of operations for Allied Services, a pest-control company, complained that the draft ordinance — with fines as high as $1,000 for each offense — is “one-sided into forcing property management to do everything, but there’s no responsibility built in for the tenant.”

Tenants would be required to notify landlords of a bedbug problem in writing and cooperate by granting the landlord access to the unit.

“What happens if the tenant doesn’t cooperate? A lot of our biggest problems are tenants not letting us in or not doing what we recommend they do,” the exterminator said.

Bedbugs are one-quarter-inch long bugs that attach themselves to clothing, furniture, bedding and baggage, bite people while they’re sleeping and can live up to a year on a single feeding.

Coming off another bloody weekend that saw seven more Chicago homicides, some may might wonder why aldermen have set their sights on the scourge of bedbugs.

But, to hear the sponsors tell it, Chicago is in the midst of a virtual bedbug invasion. And it’s either them or us. Eat or be eaten.

“If this problem gets out of hand — and it can very easily get out of hand — you could go to one of the finest restaurants in Chicago and you could be the host to a bedbug and you wouldn’t even know about it,” Suarez said.

“Don’t think the highest level of society is immune from bedbugs. No one is immune.”

After the hearing, Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th) acknowledged the obvious: the ordinance needs a re-write.

“Bedding is an issue. So is the enforcement piece. What happens if a unit is deemed to have widespread infestation? How much time do we give them and who bears the burden? We’ll meet with the realtors association to make sure that the cost is not borne by just one entity,” Cardenas said.

“Everybody acknowledges we have to do something. [But], everybody should bear some cost.”



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