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Hamilton tenant says he’s being ‘eaten alive’ after living with bed bug infestation for over a year

A Hamilton tenant says he can’t lay on his bed, move his shower curtain, comb his hair or even put on his shoes without finding bed bugs. 

Gerald said it’s a problem that’s only gotten worse in his bachelor unit in a downtown apartment building, despite the property management company having it sprayed two dozen times in the past year.

“I couldn’t get any sleep last night because I’m literally being eaten alive,” he told CBC Hamilton earlier this week. 

CBC Hamilton has agreed to withhold his full name, as he fears being linked to a bed bug infestation will impact his future employment and housing options.

He said the bed bug problem in his 325 James St. S. apartment is affecting nearly every aspect of his life. He’s spent hundreds of dollars on laundry — washing and drying all his clothes and bedding repeatedly, trying to get rid of the bugs, he said.

A man's foot with bites on it
Gerald says he has permanent scars from where he’s scratched his bed bug bites. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

He avoids showering as much as possible because that’s where he finds the most bed bugs. He has scars and scabs on his body from scratching the bites, including several dotted marks around his ankles, CBC Hamilton has seen. He rarely gets a good night sleep without feeling the tiny pests crawl across his skin or itching the bites, he said.

Then there’s the isolation. “It’s hard because I have to worry about, am I going to bring these bed bugs with me?” Gerald said. 

Gerald, 27, moved into his apartment in February 2022 and within three weeks said he found bed bugs. He said he has never experienced bed bugs before living in this building. 

Property manager says it provides timely service

Tenants have an obligation to keep their units relatively clean while landlords have an obligation to keep units habitable, said paralegal Bruce Parsons. 

“So [the landlord] has to respond in a timely, reasonable manner and it has to be effective,” said Parsons. “But you would expect effective treatment for bed bugs. It can’t be something where they’re not actually fixing the problem.” 

The most effective treatments for bed bugs include freezing or heating units and belongings, said Hamilton’s Housing Help Centre executive director Larry Huibers, who was co-chair of the city’s now-disbanded bed bug action group.

He also said bed bugs migrate easily from unit to unit in apartment buildings and treatments in those case would be more effective if they involve more than one unit. 

Since the fall, Gerald’s unit has been sprayed with a natural biopesticide, according to an email sent to him on Nov. 2 by the management company, The Silver Group, and seen by CBC Hamilton. The Silver Group is acting on behalf of the landlord. 

suitcase and box on balcony
Gerald’s balcony where he stores some of his belongings to try to stop the bed bugs spreading. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

On numerous occasions, Gerald has emailed The Silver Group about the bed bugs, as seen by CBC Hamilton, asking them to try different extermination methods, spray more often and in his bathroom, or provide him with another unit.

“You either need to book a spray for this week or find me different accommodations ASAP as I am getting bit daily,” Gerald wrote on Oct. 25, 2022 after living with bed bugs for over six months. “Why should I have to suffer like this?”

The Silver Group hired another extermination company, it said in an email response to him in November, acknowledging that the bugs had likely developed a resistance. By that time, The Silver Group had already waived one month’s rent for the “inconvenience.” 

The Silver Group’s senior property manager Christine Robinson told CBC Hamilton in a recent email that Gerald is providing “misleading information” and interfered with the pest control company working in his unit, refused to let the technician in and was “verbally abusive” towards staff and the technician.

“We remain diligent in providing our residents with professional services in a timely manner,” said Robinson. 

The day after they were contacted by CBC for comment, The Silver Group served Gerald with an N5 eviction notice for “directly preventing the landlords from fulfilling their maintenance obligations, which is interfering with their reasonable enjoyment, and the reasonable enjoyment of residents in the complex.” CBC Hamilton has viewed a copy of the notice.

Property records show the building is owned by Mountain View Apartments Ltd., where Jonas Prince and Geoffrey Wayne Squibb are listed as board directors. They’re also principals at Realstar Group — one of Canada’s largest rental property owners with over 25,000 units, according to its website. Neither provided comment after emails and a call to the company.

Tenant facing eviction after he stopped paying rent

Gerald said he has done everything he can think of to comply with extermination efforts including sweeping, vacuuming and mopping, keeping his apartment free of clutter and moving some of his belongings onto the balcony. 

He denies he was ever verbally abusive toward anyone and said he has left his unit close to 24 times in the past year for treatments.

But earlier this spring, Gerald said he was there when the technician visited. Gerald said the technician left without doing the treatment after Gerald began recording the interaction on his phone. 

In the N5 notice, The Silver Group said Gerald followed him and called him vulgar names. 

In a video viewed by CBC, taken at the time according to Gerald, Gerald could be heard saying to someone, “can I ask why you’re refusing to do this? What have I done not to do the spray today? Please let me know.” 

Gerald has stopped paying the $940 in monthly rent. He said in part it’s because he is in between jobs, but also he doesn’t know what else to do to get his landlord’s attention.

He said he can’t afford to move, so getting the bed bugs eradicated from his apartment is his only option other than homelessness.

The Silver Group has also served him with a separate eviction notice for failing to pay rent, as seen by CBC Hamilton. Gerald said he plans to continue the fight at the landlord and tenant board in the coming months and will be filing his own applications alleging that the landlord gave him an eviction notice in bad faith and has not complied with maintenance standards.

“I shouldn’t have to live likes this,” Gerald said.

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