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.
Holiday season has been replaced by trash season in many Lawrence households.
Most of you surely know how it goes: For every pound in gifts you receive, you most likely have two pounds of packaging and gift wrapping to throw away.
And don’t even get me started about all the trash the holiday dinner produces — napkins, linens, tablecloths, ceiling tiles. (A holiday dinner with a 6-year-old and 9-year-old who know they can’t open presents until they finish their meal, can get a little messy.)
Lots of trash following the holiday season is nothing new, but what is new in Lawrence is the city’s trash system that requires households to use a city-mandated trash cart. Those carts only hold so much trash, and the city has said it expects households only to set out as much trash as will fit in the carts. But the city also has said it basically will give households three times a year where it can exceed those amounts. More than three times a year, though, may result in the city saying you need a larger cart or an additional cart. Those larger carts come with a larger monthly bill.
So, the question has been: Does this holiday season and all the trash it produces count against your three exemptions? The answer: No.
“We are the kinder, gentler, more understanding Solid Waste Division,” said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works. “We definitely understand people have visitors during the holidays and are going to have extra trash. We’re more than happy to take extra bags during the holiday season.”
Tammy Bennett, the assistant director of public works who oversees the day-to-day operations of the trash system, said solid waste employees won’t be keeping track of households that set out extra trash either this week or next week.
But Bennett said on most other weeks (move-out and move-in week likely will be exceptions), crews will be keeping records of households that set out more trash than can be contained in their cart.
“We feel like we have to keep track of it to be fair and accurate for everybody,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the department has come up with a slogan that summarizes the city’s policy on extra trash: Take it, tag it, switch it.
The first time a household puts out extra trash, crews simply will take it and move on. The second time, crews will take the trash but also leave a tag reminding the household of the city’s trash policy. The third time, crews will take it but also leave a note indicating the city would be in touch about switching the household to a larger cart.
Bennett, though, said the department was committed to be understanding of special circumstances. For instance, one Town Talk reader mentioned to me how her household had a lot of extra trash because of sewage backup. Bennett said in cases like that, a household can call the city’s solid waste division — 832-3032 — and explain the situation, and the event wouldn’t be counted as one of the household’s three exemptions.
Bennett said the city plans to keep track of the extra trash on a calendar year basis, but she said the system is subject to change as the city learns more about it.
“We have to make sure we are getting it right for the customer,” Bennett said. “Our main goal in this is we want to make sure that customers have the right size container for the majority of the year.”