The San Francisco Department of Public Health went over proposed bed bug regulations at a public meeting Thursday and invited the community to weigh in.
Most people in attendance seemed to like the changes but a few said that some questions still need to be answered.
Richard May of Bedbug Working Group, whose members include tenants, property managers, and community organizers, called the revisions “a good first step” but said more work needs to be done, including “stricter enforcement.”
Rosemary Bosque, J.D., Chair of the SRO Task Force, said the revisions would give the regulatory agencies a lot more direction, regarding who does what when dealing with an infestation.
However, she said, we still need to determine how to discard items like contaminated clothing or furniture.
The proposed changes would require property owners with recurrent bed bug violations to have a written bed bug control and monitoring plan. Owners who rent units short-term, such as rooms in Single Resident Occupancy hotels, will need to test monthly for bed bugs. They will also be required to provide encasings for mattresses.
Tenants will have to keep their living spaces free of cluttered conditions that facilitate bed bug breeding.
One of the biggest differences between the revisions and current regulations is in format, explained Karen Cohn of the Department of Public Health. The revisions chronologically lay out all parties’ responsibilities during an infestation treatment, starting with the property owner and ending with the licensed pest control operator and the DPH itself.
Jerry Motak, a San Francisco pest control operator, said that the Mission District suffers from bed bugs largely because of second-hand furniture. Passersby see a stylish abandoned wooden desk, and they take it home without considering that it might be infested, he said.
“That practice has to stop,” Motak said.
When someone donates an infested piece of furniture to a used-goods store, the bugs can migrate to other pieces in the store, and whoever buys that furniture will inherit the infestation, Motak said.
Clutter is also an issue in the Mission. “A lot of pack rats and too much clutter,” Motak said.
Infestations can be inexpensively helped, he said, or even solved by caulking cracks in the walls and floor. By doing that, “the bed bugs can’t move in, and they can’t move out. The problem is, tenants don’t know about caulking.”
Large infestations are especially difficult to treat in San Francisco because “you can’t tent the buildings. There’s no product out there right now, for the city, because buildings are too close together” to effectively fumigate.
Even if an entire building was successfully treated, if the bugs had migrated to an adjacent building then they could easily come back, he said.
Richard Paser, a licensed pest control operator, said “The problem will never fully go away, because people are just transferring” the bedbugs from other locations.
Paser said that people in all types of housing can be affected by bedbugs.
“We have a lot of customers that are suffering in high-income areas as well.” The difference, he said, is that poor people can’t afford the treatments.
Many people who spoke during public comment shared their personal horror stories.
“I live in a state of paranoia,” said Athena Ennis, who almost broke down when she stood up for public comment. She said she hasn’t slept well since her unit became infested last May. After undergoing three separate treatments, the bugs were still there.
Ennis worried that her landlord was “just spot-treating” instead of treating the whole building, she said.
However, Ennis said that she refused to put a band-aid on her problem by simply moving out.
The health department will be accepting revision suggestions until April 6.