Bedbugs on the radar screen of city officials; new ordinance would allow City Hall to create rules to exterminate pests
And here you thought property maintenance just meant keeping the grass mowed, the house painted, the roof shingled, and other such matters.
Well, add one more item to the chore list: Controlling bedbugs.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are scheduled to approve a new ordinance that will get the ball rolling on creating regulations to control bedbug infestations in the city.
Commissioners are creating a new “Property Maintenance Code.” Most of the code provisions are just a rewrite and combination of two different sections that existed in the city’s building permit codes and in the city’s general code book.
But the city doesn’t have much on the books in terms of how property owners must treat bedbug infestations. The new code doesn’t create a specific set of requirements, but rather gives the city’s director of planning and development services the authority to create specific regulations on how bedbugs should be dealt with.
Lawrence has had some issues with the pests, which frequently live in mattresses or clothes and create health risks by biting and sucking the blood of their victims.
We reported in 2010 a spike in the number of bedbug complaints in the city. That was about the time that bedbug infestations were starting to get publicity in other parts of the country as well.
In a memo to commissioners, city staff members argue that the city should get involved with the regulation of bedbug extermination because the pests can quickly grow into a citywide problem. The pests can embed themselves in clothing, mattresses or furniture that may be moved from one residence to another.
Lawrence may be at particular risk for bedbug infestations because of the number of students who move in and out of the community or who travel home and unknowingly may bring the bedbugs back with them. Our 2010 article noted that KU officials had spent some time talking with students about the risks of bedbugs, and how to prevent their spread.
I’m not sure what the situation is today with the number of bedbug cases in the city, but I’ll check with the proper officials and report back.
I suspect people who have had bedbug infestations will appreciate the city getting involved in the issue. According to the last article we wrote, it sounds like figuring out how to get rid of the pests can be confusing. It also sounds like it can be expensive. Back in 2010, one exterminator estimated that a typical heat treatment — a process where the infested area is heated to about 130 degrees — would cost more than $500.
While reading through the code about bedbugs, I also found several other items of note about what the city requires in terms of property maintenance. I don’t think any of these are really new requirements, but under the new code, they may become easier to enforce. Here’s a look at a few:
• Here’s the list of no-no’s that you should not allow to accumulate in your yard or on your porch or deck: lumber, wire, metal, tires, concrete, masonry products, plastic products, supplies, equipment, machinery, auto parts, stoves, refrigerators, televisions, sinks, garbage, refuse, junk, or the like.
• No person shall allow in their yard a dead or substantially dead tree.
• Water from a sump pump shall not be discharged at a point closer than five feet from any adjoining property line.
• Essentially every window used to ventilate a room should have an insect screen.
• “Leaning, buckling, sagging or deteriorating” fences shall be repaired. Any fence that was painted and now has “chipping, peeling, scaling or missing paint” on at least 20 percent of its area shall be repainted or stripped and given a water-resistant coating.
• It is against the code to put out your city-issued trash cart before 7 a.m. the day before your scheduled trash day. It also is against the code to leave your trash cart out at the curb for longer than 24 hours after your trash has been picked up.
• It is legal to store your city trash cart outside your house or garage, but the code says it should be stored no farther than three feet from the exterior wall of your house or shed. In other words, storing it in the middle of your yard would be a violation.
One thing that this new code isn't expected to change is that most of these property maintenance code violation matters are dealt with on a complaint bases. In other words, the city doesn't send out inspectors to search for such violation, as a general rule. The city also has taken an approach of trying to get property owners to simply remedy the violation rather than writing an actual ticket. But the code does allow for Municipal Court fines for $100 to $500 for violations of the code.