Concord launches Bed Bug Response Program to enforce landlord compliance

Monday evening, the City of Concord in Contra Costa County, California, adopted a Bed Bug Response Pilot Program and declared bedbugs a public nuisance subject to civil, criminal and administrative remedies. Presented by Sgt. Russ Norris of the Code Enforcement Unit of the Concord Police Department, the new policy embraces the City’s role in enforcing a landlord’s obligation to provide a bed bug free home to their tenants.

The new policy was welcomed by tenant advocates who have been organizing for months to push city officials to cite landlords for unabated bed bug infestations.

Tenants in units with bed bugs are regularly bitten at night, resulting in bites, rashes, and sleep deprivation, among other impacts. “This is a huge step forward,” commented Guillermo Elenes, an organizer with Tenants Together who has been working with Concord tenants on the issue since last summer.

The new Bed Bug Response policy follows a period of inaction on bed bug complaints. Initially, city code enforcement officials and county public health officials frustrated tenants by each claiming the other was responsible for dealing with bedbug infestations in rental properties. “We went around and around with them,” said Elenes. “The County said the City should cite the landlord, the City said the County should cite the landlord, and at the end of the day, nobody was citing the landlord. Meanwhile, tenants have been suffering and these are absentee slumlords have been operating with impunity.” To date, no landlord in Concord has been cited for bed bugs, something advocates hope will change with the new policy in place.

Tenants Together has been working with tenants in numerous buildings in Concord where landlords are allowing bed bug infestations to persist. In the summer of 2013, TT began helping Concord tenants make formal complaints. In October, tenants testified at a city council meeting about the problem. In response, City Councilmember Edi Birsan vowed to take action, met with tenants in their homes, and sent letters to their landlords.

In November 2013, Councilmember Birsan, city code enforcement officials, a county public health department representative, and stakeholders met to address the issue. In December 2013, tenants of the Rosemont Apartments filed a lawsuit against their landlord over bedbugs and other habitability conditions. Tenants in other buildings have come forward with bedbug complaints, most in the Monument Boulevard corridor, an area of Concord with many multi-unit buildings housing low-income tenants.

Monica Damian, a tenant in a complex on Monument Boulevard, welcomed the news: “We’ve been suffering with these bed bugs biting us for so long. I’m glad the City is recognizing the problem and taking steps to address it, but it needs to happen without delay. These bugs are biting our family every night and we need help.”

Under the new policy, the City will recognize bed bugs as a nuisance subject to city enforcement. According to TT organizer Elenes, “We welcome the new policy and look forward to working with Sgt. Norris and other city officials to ensure effective enforcement of this program.”

Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights, Tenants Together hosts monthly clinics in Concord where tenants can come to learn about their rights and get help. Tenants Together also runs a free renters’ rights hotline that can be reached at 1.888.495.8020. Tenants can make bed bug complaints directly to the City’s Code Enforcement Unit during business hours at 925.671.3075 or after hours at 925.671.3282.

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