CONCORD -- A new program to stop the spread of bedbugs in the city's rental housing has spurred some property owners to get serious about tackling the vexing problem.
Under the six-month pilot program, property owners who ignore bedbug infestations could face steep fines. The program treats bedbugs as a public nuisance and gives the Concord Police Department's Code Enforcement Unit the authority to oversee tenant complaints.
Sgt. Russ Norris, code enforcement supervisor, on Tuesday gave the City Council an update on the bedbug program. Since the program went into effect in March, code enforcement has received nine cases and closed two of them; and issued one citation for failure to comply, according to Norris. He also reported that three apartment complexes have contracted with a pest management company.
Before developing the program, Concord regarded bedbug abatement as the Contra Costa County Public Health Department's responsibility. But Councilman Ron Leone noted that residents often found themselves caught in a Catch-22 because the county didn't believe it had oversight either.
"For the city to step forward like this is a big plus," Leone said.
In developing the program, Concord consulted with the county, the California Apartment Association, which represents landlords, and Tenants Together, a statewide renters' rights organization.
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 unit. If the owner doesn't respond to the letter within 10 days, code enforcement will arrange for an employee from the county's 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 re-inspection fee until the landlord eradicates the insects.
Councilman Edi Birsan said he keeps two bags of bedbugs he collected during apartment visits last year stapled over his desk to remind him of the problem.
"Our best bedbug strategy is kill them," he said. "I look forward to the success of this (program)."
Bedbugs are tiny, flat, reddish-brown insects that feed on human blood and usually bite at night. They 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 eradicate because pesticides don't really work and the insects move easily between apartments. Painstakingly applied steam or heat are the best extermination methods.
Tenants Together brought a group of residents to the council meeting to share their experiences of living with bedbugs.
Michelle Anglés has lived in an apartment building on Monument Boulevard for five years and for about half that time she's had a bedbug infestation, she said.
"I was silent about this problem because I thought I was the only one who had this problem until I started talking to my neighbors," Anglés told the council, holding up a plastic bag full of bedbugs. "I'm here to represent a mother, wife and human being who is being eaten, practically alive, by these bedbugs."
After her apartment was treated two weeks ago, Anglés said she was bitten again the night that an inspector assured her the bedbugs were gone.
Both the California Apartment Association and Tenants Together have suggested tweaks to the program. Norris said he has met with both groups since March to discuss changes to make the program move effective.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.