Several blind spots persist in cities’ fight against bed bugs, the pest that disproportionately affects vulnerable tenant households. However, inspiring local initiatives stand out, while the Government of Quebec is called upon to better regulate the profession of exterminator in the province.
Officially, the City’s open data shows a drop in bed bug exterminations reported by pest managers. In 2013, for example, 3,695 exterminations were reported to the City, compared to 2,373 last year. A decrease in interventions in dwellings infested with bed bugs was also noted in 2020 and 2021, before they resumed their vigor last year.
However, these data should be taken with a grain of salt, notes the owner of Royale Extermination, Sean-Michael Jourdain, who notes that several exterminators do not bother to report to the City their interventions aimed at eradicating bed bugs in dwellings. “It takes too long, and exterminators don’t bother with that,” he says.
It then becomes difficult to have a clear portrait of the extent of the problem in the metropolis, evokes the one whose company is dedicated solely to the eradication of this type of pest, in Montreal as well as in Quebec and Ottawa. . One thing is certain, “we opened our doors three years ago, and each year, we double our bedbug exterminations,” continues Mr. Jourdain.
Montreal Public Health, for its part, reports the presence of bedbugs in approximately 3% of dwellings in the city, a percentage that varies little from one year to another. “More specifically, it is important to draw attention to the fact that low-income households are overrepresented among those with bedbug problems”, while renters are “six times more affected than the owners” by this parasite, notes Loïc Martin-Rouillard, who is a programming, planning and research officer within the Regional Directorate of Public Health in Montreal.
Thus, 9% of households earning less than $20,000 per year experience bedbug problems, three times more than the average household in the metropolis, continues Loïc Martin-Rouillard. It should be noted that infestations can have significant psychological repercussions on those affected.
“There is loss of sleep that can ensue. It will create anxiety and it can be exacerbated if there are underlying issues. It can go as far as depression, ”he lists. Hence the importance of acting quickly when a home is infested, continues Mr. Martin-Rouillard. “We must ensure that the boroughs and the City of Montreal can intervene in a timely manner. »
In order to optimize interventions with tenants struggling with these insects, the two housing committees of Rosemont and La Petite-Patrie joined forces in 2015 with those of the borough, the police and Montreal Public Health to to create a round table on the sanitation of housing.
The table facilitated the identification of buildings infested in particular by bed bugs and the appropriate intervention with the tenants and owners concerned. Its members have thus been able to help many tenants to properly prepare their homes for the arrival of exterminators, in addition to convincing landlords to carry out exterminations in entire buildings.
“All the owners cooperated well, except one,” says community organizer Mélanie Baril, from the La Petite-Patrie Housing Committee. It now hopes that several boroughs will take inspiration from this initiative in order to act more effectively in cases of unsanitary housing. This pilot project resumed last spring in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, after being suspended for three years due to the pandemic.
The Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM), meanwhile, reports a 15.3% drop in bed bug infestations in its vast social housing stock reported to it in 2022 compared to to the previous year. A decrease that the organization attributes in particular to the work of its health intervention officers, who help tenants to properly prepare their housing before the arrival of the exterminators.
“There is a lot of work that is done with the intervention officer so that the tenant agrees to open his door” and to let exterminators into his accommodation, continues Ingrid Dirickx, who is in charge of communications at the OMHM.
A taboo to deconstruct
According to the Civil Code of Quebec, tenants must notify their landlord when they notice the presence of bedbugs in their dwelling. The owner is then required to take the necessary measures to ensure that the accommodation is “in a good state of habitability”.
Several cities in the province require that owners use exterminators to get rid of bedbugs. The City of Longueuil then requires the consultation of a complete extermination report, the credibility of which it validates before closing a file concerning bedbugs opened following a complaint from a citizen. “For us, then, the file is closed”, adds the administrative spokesperson of the City, Louis-Pascal Cyr.
This model, based on citizen complaints, however, has blind spots, with many people preferring to keep quiet about the fact that they have bed bugs in their homes.
“A big challenge that we have is really the fact that there are people who manage this as a taboo problem. So there are renters who won’t tell the landlord, and then they’ll try to buy over-the-counter cans and do it themselves. However, using over-the-counter products will not solve the problem, it will just make it worse exponentially, ”says Sean-Michael Jourdain. These parasites then quickly spread to other homes, he continues. “It really is a vicious cycle. »
A profession to supervise
At the same time, associations of both tenants and owners deplore the fact that the profession of exterminator is not sufficiently supervised in Quebec. “The problem is that you and I can put an ad in the newspaper and pretend to be experts in extermination, and there is no one who will supervise us,” laments the spokesperson for the Corporation of Quebec real estate owners, Marc-André Plante.
However, “it is provincial, the supervision of the profession of exterminator. And currently, it is really deficient”, also indicates Mélanie Baril.