CONCORD -- To stop bloodthirsty insects from spreading through the city's rental housing, Concord is cracking down on landlords who let the bedbugs bite.
Under a six-month pilot program -- the first of its kind in Contra Costa County -- property owners who ignore bedbug infestations could face steep fines. The program treats bedbugs as a public nuisance and gives the Concord Police code enforcement unit the authority to oversee tenant complaints.
Once a resident files a bedbug complaint, a code enforcement officer will mail a notice to the property owners, giving them up to 30 days to hire a pest management company to inspect and exterminate the rental unit.
If the owner doesn't respond to the letter within 10 days, code enforcement will arrange for an employee from the county environmental health division to inspect the apartment.
The city will notify the owner if bedbugs are present and levy fines starting at $100 and increasing to $500 for each citation and a re-inspection fee until the landlord eradicates the insects.
"The program is really oriented to support and provide resources to tenants and property owners alike, so that they can work through this problem themselves without the involvement of the city and without enforcement action," said Concord police Sgt. Russ Norris, code enforcement supervisor. "It's only when things fail that we'll get involved."
Concord will pay $174 per hour for the county health inspector. The city will evaluate the cost and effectiveness of the program at the end of six months.
Bedbugs -- tiny, flat, reddish-brown insects that feed on human blood and usually bite at night -- have returned with a vengeance to Contra Costa County, with reports coming from Pittsburg, Antioch and Richmond as well.
Bedbugs live in upholstered furniture, mattresses and bedding as well as along baseboards and in cracks and crevices. Although the insects don't carry disease, their bites can cause itchy, red welts. Experts say bedbugs are difficult to get rid of because pesticides don't really work and the insects move easily between apartments.
Concord consulted with the county, a tenants' advocacy group and the California Apartment Association to develop the program.
Tenants Together, a statewide renters' rights organization, has been working with residents of several apartment buildings in the Monument Corridor that the group says are infested with bedbugs. For the past year, the group has been urging Concord to cite landlords who fail to address the problem.
"This policy is a great first step. We're really encouraged. We want to see it implemented right away," said Guillermo Elenes of Tenants Together. "We are expecting to see inspections in a timely matter after reports occur. We are expecting to see an immediate notice of violation."
Theresa Karr, executive director of the California Apartment Association Contra Costa/Napa/Solano Division, praised Concord for developing the program but expressed concern about the timeline.
"I can tell you, they can't get rid of them in 30 days," she said. "The impossibility here is not just for landlords but for tenants also. How do you get everything out of your unit if you really have an infestation? How do you get it all out of there so the unit can be treated?"
But Norris said the city is willing to be flexible as long as property owners demonstrate they are taking steps to get rid of the bedbugs.
"If we get a call from a property owner then we will work with them," he said.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.