DAYTON — Russell Dickens, 58, has lived at the Biltmore Towers downtown for two years and is fed up with annoying bedbugs. He said he’s thrown away furniture ruined by infestation. It’s a sacrifice residents at the Section 8-subsidized complex can ill afford.
“I’m very concerned, and we’re all poor folks in here,” he said. “I’d never seen a bedbug till I moved in here.”
Too many of Dickens’ neighbors are seeing the bloodsucking insects now — and feeling them, too.
A Dumpster parked outside the 18-story brick building at 210 N. Main St. is packed with discarded furniture, but the building’s owner, Denver-based Aimco, said the furniture is from vacated apartments and doesn’t reflect the infestation.
Tom Hut, a supervisor with Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County, said bedbug outbreaks have been reported coast to coast — last year there was an outbreak in Cincinnati.
Hamilton County has set up a task force to fight the bedbugs, said Jim Cunningham, field office director for the Cincinnati office of HUD, a jurisdiction that includes Dayton.
HUD has Section 8 contracts with 365 privately owned apartment complexes in Southwest Ohio. Cunningham said he has no count of how many have bedbug infestations, although his office does get calls from tenants.
Then, he said, “we’ll call the management company to find out what they are doing to address the issue.”
Because of how prevalent the bedbugs have become, Cincinnati has declared them a public health nuisance, Cunningham said, noting that the Biltmore is the first example he has heard of involving the fumigation of an entire 18-story building.
According to the contract Aimco has with HUD, Aimco can finance the fumigation with operating funds from rent collection. They will have to notify HUD and get approval for such expenditures. No details have been submitted as of yet, Cunningham said.
In HUD’s program, tenants pay 30 percent of the rental cost and HUD sets a rent schedule. The owner bills HUD for the remainder.
Now it appears to be Dayton’s turn for bedbug infestations.
Hut said the local health agency is developing informational material in response to a dozen calls daily from apartment dwellers harassed by the insects.
While the agency keeps no detailed statistics, that’s a big leap from 2008 when the agency took that many queries in a week’s time.
Bedbugs, unlike mosquitoes and ticks, don’t transmit disease. But they are annoying and can create a health hazard.
The wingless insects feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals and can be stowaways in luggage, clothing and bedding. The quarter-inch adults feed at night. After repeated exposure, victims develop irritation similar to flea or mosquito bites.
According to the New York Times, based on an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association published in April, “international travel, immigration, changes in pest control practices, and insecticide resistance” have created “a resurgence in developed countries,” including the U.S.
Additionally, bedbug infestations have been reported increasingly in homes, apartments, hotels, hospitals and dormitories in the U.S. since 1980, according to the Times.
Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County doesn’t routinely police apartments, but does inspect every licensed hotel and motel at least annually to check for the insects and other potential health issues, Hut said, noting that Public Health has fielded calls from irate Biltmore residents.
Used furniture, especially bedding, and an increase in travel and apartment turnover, can spread the bugs, he said.
“Left untreated, a bedbug carried into an apartment building can be an epidemic. They travel through cracks and crevices, adjoining walls, and electric outlets,” Hut said. “It takes several months and multiple visits before it’s under control. You need the cooperation of all the tenants to have it under control.”
Cindy Duffy, spokeswoman for Biltmore Towers’ owner Aimco, a New York Stock Exchange-traded real estate investment trust and national owner of apartment complexes, said the bedbugs have been successfully fighting eviction for the past two years.
Now, the building must be cleared, sealed and fumigated by Terminix exterminators from Saturday, Aug. 22, until Sunday, Aug. 30.
“It’s gotten to the point now where routine measures are not addressing problem,” Duffy said. “We want to address this for our residents and want them to be in a healthy and comfortable environment.”
She said residents will be briefed on how to avoid bringing bedbugs back into the building once they return to their apartments.
She had no cost estimates, but said the money for the fumigation and the temporary relocation would come out of Aimco’s operational budget.
Terminix officials declined to offer an estimated cost on the project.
There’s no reason to fear the fumigation, Duffy said.
“Given that the building is brick, the tape-and-seal method will work particularly well to prevent any of the gas utilized in the process from leaving,” she said. “Terminix has explained to us that, in the unlikely event that any gas would reach the outside, it immediately dissipates when it reaches the atmosphere, posing no danger to anyone outside of the building,” she said.