[image-1]“If you’ll excuse me,” Linda Doll told Lakewood City Council on March 21, “I’m a little tired. I didn’t get any sleep last night because I am required to get my apartment ready for treatment, which means I have to take absolutely everything I own and put it in plastic bags. I might smell a little bit, because I’m required to put all my belongings in plastic bags in my bathtub, which is filled from the tub all the way up to the ceiling.”
Doll was urging council members to get involved with the growing bed bug problem at Lake Shore Towers, a mixed-income, 178-unit apartment building in what is called the Gold Coast in Lakewood. She and others in the building are facing mounting costs for bed bug treatments — financial costs that tenants and city laws insist should be borne by Showe Management Corp. and psychological costs that are chipping away at an already depleted quality of life. Doll was homeless before, but now she feels trapped.
The life cycle of bed bugs is such that treatment must occur every two weeks. If a tenant gets skipped over, then the process begins anew. That’s what’s happening to Doll and others; exterminators have shown up at her place only to tell her that her belongings are not properly stashed away from the walls. Last time, she said she begged the worker to stay for a moment while she remedied the situation — hustling to move heavy fixtures into tight corners — but the guy “took off.” That’s a $48 charge to Doll for nothing.
She has been charged $602 for Environmental Pest Management treatments, or lack thereof, thus far. At her job, Doll had been making $8.50 an hour. “$602 is probably going to drive me back into homelessness, with the added proviso that I will lose everything I own,” Doll said during that council meeting. Based on interviews with other tenants, Scene
has learned that many residents have been charged hundreds of dollars for treatments in their units and in neighboring units.
Indeed, Doll is not alone in her plight at Lake Shore Towers. Linette Eady, the chair of the tenants’ organization, landed in a Lake Shore Towers efficiency after a stint on the streets herself. She was making $127 each month at the time, but soon enough a stream of income from the Veterans Administration opened up and moved her into a market-rate two-bedroom. She’s paying $1,200 for 1,500 square feet now. Others in the building are paying $25 for a studio.
Eady doesn’t have a bed bug problem in her unit, but she’s been gathering stories from tenants who do. She’s taken her camera into apartments where clothing and furniture are stacked like totems in the bathroom, where bed bugs scamper across decades-old floorboards and wreak psychological and physical havoc.
“It’s breaking my heart, what they’re doing to other people,” Eady tells Scene
On April 12, Eady led a tenants' organization meeting in a community room at Lake Shore Towers. Ward 4 Councilman Dan O'Malley, who has been involved in this case for weeks now, spoke about the latest developments between the city and Showe Management Corp. He cited a city a ordinance that places the responsibility of extermination costs on the owner of a multi-unit property when two or more units within that property have a bed bug infestation. (Read his letter to management below.) "It is not your responsibility," O'Malley told tenants. "When you're
being charged...somebody is breaking the law."
A civil case is working its way through Lakewood Municipal Court, with an anticipated April 15 response date from the apartment’s management. The plaintiffs’ demands: Stop charging tenants for bed bug treatments, and refund the money that’s been paid so far.
The city is moving too; recently, it was decided that nonprofit LakewoodAlive would handle all bed bug referrals. Human Services Director Toni Gelsomino told residents at Lake Shore Towers that they're not alone at all — bed bugs have become an increasingly prevalent issue at high-rises in the city and across Ohio