Thinking about the bed bugs brings Laura Ceklanovic to tears. She shudders when she imagines them crawling all over her bed, burrowing into her furniture and eating her three-year-old son alive.
“Everything I own in the whole world is gone,” she says, choking back tears as she speaks about an ordeal that began Friday.
The single mom and her son live at the Sunrise Apartments, 22260 122 Avenue, a building managed by Amacon Properties that’s been plagued by a beg bug infestation since 2012.
Ceklanovic has rented at the Sunrise for the past two years, first living in a one-bedroom suite and eventually moving into her current two-bedroom unit on the third floor.
She claims she asked the property manager about bedbugs before she moved into her new suite, but was told the problem had been eradicated.
It wasn’t until her son awoke one night itching violently that she figured something was amiss.
A dog was brought in by Amacon to sniff out the bedbugs last Friday.
Ceklanovic, who has a phobia of bugs, fled to a shelter that night.
“There was no way I was going to spend another night there,” she said. “I’m never going back. I’m not putting my son at risk.”
Ceklanovic is moving out, but has to abandoned nearly all her possessions as she does not want to truck the bedbugs to her new home. She’s already paid $700 of the $875 she owes in rent and won’t be getting any of the money back.
Because she still owes Amacon $175, they’ve given her a 10-day eviction notice. Since she’s on disability, she doesn’t even have money to launder all her beg-bug infested clothes.
She’s asked Amacon for tokens to use the laundry, said the company refused.
She’s called Fraser Health, but was told bed bugs are not considered a public health problem.
“I can’t believe it. This is not just a pest anymore. It’s ruining people’s lives,” Ceklanovic said. “I’ve never dealt with anything like this before. It’s torn my life upside down and there’s no help from anybody”
A suite next to Ceklanovic was sprayed last week for bed bugs, for the fifth time in two years.
To Cassandra Korchinski, the plight of her neighbours is unfair. The young mom, with a three-month-old and five-year-old, is determined to get authorities to fix the Sunrise Apartments, although she’s moving out.
“Everyone else is too scared to speak up because they have nowhere else to go,” says Korchinski.
Bed bugs aren’t the only problem afflicting tenants. Korchinski list a litany of complaints: mice; mould; a lobby that floods when it rains; soot staining the walls from a fire in August; and exhaust fans that don’t work. Her children were bitten by fleas when she moved in eight months ago, although she doesn’t have any pets.
Korchinski said she had to pay to fumigate her suite herself.
Her complaints were backed up by two neighbours who asked to remain anonymous because they fear they’ll be targeted for eviction.
“I’m living out of bags,” said one neighbour, whose suite has been sprayed several times.
Her cats have caught several mice.
Korchinski believes her baby, Layla-Rose, has a respiratory infection from living in the mouldy apartment. She’s moved her children to her mom’s house at the request of a nurse.
“It’s affecting my children,” she said.
“Something has to be done. They need to move everyone out, put them up in a hotel, spray the building and then fix all the other problems.”
Amacon Properties, however, believes the complaints about Sunrise Apartments are unfounded.
Although Ceklanovic’s suite is currently infested with bed bugs, David Sutherland, vice-president of residential properties for Amacon, insists the building has been bed-bug free for the past seven months.
“We’ve done a sweep with the dogs maybe a month ago,” Sutherland said, adding the complaints are probably coming from disgruntled tenants who are facing eviction for drug use and non-payment of rent.
As for moving people out and fumigating the building, Sutherland noted the pest control experts have not recommended that.
“The tenants don’t have expertise in that field. We’ll leave the expertise up to the pest control company,” he added.
He believes those same disgruntled tenants are posting advertisements on Craigslist, advising people not to rent at the Sunrise and neighbouring Sorrento Apartments.
The District of Maple Ridge, meanwhile, has been fielding complaints from tenants and were set to inspect the building on Thursday.
The district’s standard of maintenance bylaw, though, says nothing about pest control, unlike similar bylaws in New Westminster and Vancouver, which stipulate rental properties need to be free of all vermin, such as bed bugs, cockroaches and mice.
Bylaws director Liz Holitzki said she will look into the matter and consult the district’s solicitors before recommending a bylaw amendment. It could be months or longer before pest control is added to the bylaw.
Inset photo: Layla-Rose with flea bites on her face.