Testimony Regarding Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance

LCBH provided the following testimony at the January 29, 2013 Joint Committee Meeting - Health and Environmental Protection & Housing and Real Estate regarding the proposed bed bug ordinance.

I work with the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, an organization with over 30 years experiencing working to preserve safe, affordable rental housing in the City of Chicago. The mounting bed bug issue is disconcerting for all Chicago residents, yet it is even more problematic for renters and the city’s rental housing supply. LCBH believes that an ordinance addressing the eradication of bed bugs is vital to ensure the safety and habitability of rental units. However, we would like to stress our concern regarding unwarranted and possibly retaliatory eviction actions based on the reporting of bed bug infestation.

Through direct work with renters, we have been alerted to many cases in which tenants were blamed for a bed bug infestation and harassed into to leaving their homes, or were retaliated against for reporting a bed bug problem to the city or tenant advocacy group. It is important that this ordinance contain language protecting renters from such actions, in order to both preserve tenancies and stop the spread of bed bugs due to tenant relocation.

Bed bugs are highly proliferative—they can literally come from anywhere; yet tenants are continuously blamed for bed bug infestations due to perceived uncleanliness. This issue has therefore become a contentious landlord/tenant issue and any ordinance addressing it must protect against wrongful eviction actions or harassment.

For example, one family we worked with made multiple reports of bed bugs to their landlord, were then blamed for the infestation while the landlord made no attempt to exterminate, and were subsequently given a 30 day notice and taken to eviction court after reporting the problem to our office. We were able to have this case dismissed, yet countless tenants face the same retaliation, and without legal advocacy are likely forced out of their homes—meaning the next tenants of the unit are walking into an infested home and the evicted tenants bring the problem to their new home.

LCBH appreciates the ordinance language that outlines a coordinated, building-wide approach to the eradication of bed bugs, as that is the most effective efficient way to address the issue. Therefore, the addition of language that shifts burdens, financial or otherwise, to individual tenants would be counterproductive—only landlords and property managers have the ability, resources, and responsibility to commence building-wide bed bug exterminations. Tenants, especially those that are disabled or elderly cannot shoulder such obligations. For example, tenants should only be forced to dispose of personal property when absolutely necessary and on the recommendation of licensed exterminators. Also, reasonable accommodations should be made for tenants with mobility issues when items must be removed, or the unit prepared for treatment. This will ensure that personal belongings are properly disposed of so as not to spread the infestation and tenants are not forced to needlessly dispose of personal belongings.

LCBH agrees that all tenants should be involved and active in the treatment process; however they should not be susceptible to harassment or eviction when faced with a bed bug infestation. Or retaliated against for following the law by alerting the landlord or the City to the infestation of bed bugs