By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A Heights at Cape Ann tenant stood next to a heap of white furniture outside of her doorway Wednesday, emptying her apartment as she prepared for a bedbug extermination set for Friday — and pondering where she might stay in the meantime.
“It’s physically, mentally, emotionally affected me,” said tenant Vikki Larocque.
The tiny, wingless bugs, had crept into at least four apartments in Larocque’s building, according to Max Schenk, the city’s manager of environmental health services.
He said his department became involved with the privately-owned complex when Larocque called the city. But the city is limited in terms of how it can respond to a private property.
“Bedbugs are a nuisance, absolutely, and I feel badly for the tenants, but they’re not considered a public health emergency,” Schenk said Wednesday. “They don’t transmit disease. They are scary when you hear about them, but it’s like any other pest control problem.”
Schenk said his office sent an inspector to the apartment complex Wednesday morning. The inspector reported back that he was unable to make contact with Larocque, but he spoke to a building manager who said a pest control person was already scheduled to exterminate four apartments and inspect the entire building after extermination.
The 276-unit apartment complex is owned by Forest Property Management, based in Cambridge. A woman identified as the property manager at the Heights at Cape Ann refused any comment on the situation Wednesday, saying the management would have nothing to say about the infestation.
Larocque said she first discovered bedbugs in her apartment Monday night, then spoke to other residents with the same problem Tuesday and notified the building manager that day.
She complained openly Wednesday about an allegedly slow response from management, saying an exterminator was not scheduled to arrive until Friday while she and many tenants were left with no place to go.
“I have to leave my home with my entire family and find some place to go,” said Larocque, who lives at her apartment with her husband, 4-year-old daughter and brother-in-law.
She said she and her family moved to Gloucester from Maine and have lived at the Heights of Cape Ann for the past almost 21/2 years, while they save up to buy a home.
Wednesday, Larocque steamed and bleached her home and belongings and prepared to leave the complex for good.
“I came here for solace,” she said. “I didn’t come here for this.”
Schenk said a bedbug bite should be treated like any common bug bite, unless the person notices an allergic reaction. A resident should treat bedbugs by putting all clothing first in a hot dryer, then a wash cycle, then again in a hot dryer and by using an exterminator for larger objects like furniture, he said.
Though a landlord is not required to temporarily house a tenant affected by bedbugs, if a landlord is unresponsive to the tenant, that tenant should contact the Health Department.
He added, however, that his department has found that the Heights of Cape Ann had gone about the process properly.
“The best I can do is check to make sure that the landlord is responding appropriately — and they were,” Schenk said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.