A tenant-owner deadlock | Local News

Joseph Vercruysse has lived in an apartment off Pine and High Streets since 2017. His first year there went well, he said, but then he got a new neighbor in the building and things. have started to degrade.

“They had asked to use our hallway to put up a sofa. That’s when the bedbugs started, ”recalls Vercruysse.

Vercruysse continued to live there, claiming that he only saw one or two insects from time to time. But when his neighbor moved in the summer of 2020 and took the sofa with them, the bed bug problem increased, he said.

“The owner had hired an exterminator and this guy was a hack or something,” Vercruysse said. “He diluted his solution, and from what I understand, an exterminator is supposed to come and everyone is supposed to leave. This was not the case. This guy came and talked more than he worked.

Vercruysse said he had spoken to his owner, Perry Kelley, about the bedbug problem on several occasions and had not received any action.

“He keeps trying to blame us,” Vercruysse said. “He said it was the company we brought in.

“Everyone’s problem”

Dianna Gibson, a mother of young children currently residing in a Genesee Street apartment, said she was looking for a new place to live due to the cockroach infestation she discovered after moving in.

“The owner has to take care of the problem,” Gibson said. “I didn’t have a lot (of problems) with bed bugs, but the last apartment I had was lead.

The city should tackle current rental property issues, Alderman General candidate Maggie Lupo said.

“We have a lot of rental apartments in the city (and) I think bed bugs are definitely a health issue. It’s also a community problem, like black mold and lead paint. If it is not controlled, it becomes everyone’s problem, ”Lupo said. “If you move into an apartment and there’s vermin there, it’s not on the tenants, it’s the landlord who owns the property.

The backlog of housing files is increasing

Jason Dool, Chief Building Inspector for the City of Lockport, said any resident of the city facing a problem like this – whether it’s bed bugs, black mold, cockroaches or lead – should phone him.

“We’ll make an appointment and take a look,” he said.

If a problem is detected, the building inspection department will contact the owner by phone or letter and give them a warning: clean up, if not, Dool said.

However, he noted, the teeth his department once had have been dulled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The problem we face is that homeowners are not responsive for a number of reasons, and… we find it difficult to send cases to court as if we were before Covid.”

Dool explained that until recently the court was closed to housing matters, and although it is open now, there is very little time allocated to housing matters.

Where it used to take less than a month for an owner to be brought to justice, it is now closer to two months, if not more; and a second court date – which was previously set for two weeks later – is another 10 to 12 week wait.

“We are talking about maybe a four month period to get two hearing dates, and even at the end of those hearing dates, I cannot guarantee that the issue will be resolved,” Dool said. “The goal for us in housing problems is to find a solution. We don’t want to fine anyone. We don’t want anyone in jail because if it gets to this point then the problem will not be fixed. Ideally, the owner does what he needs to do and never needs to go to court.

Dool suggested that many rental property owners are currently angry about not being able to collect rent, making the problem worse. He suspects the building inspectorate will receive more calls about landlord negligence after the moratorium on evictions ends, as tenants will have to justify why they don’t pay rent.

“They are right, in my opinion, not to pay,” Dool said. “I believe the law says that you can withhold a reasonable amount of rent depending on the problems you are having.”

Dool noted that a broken fire alarm could be one of those issues, or lack of heat, as well as other situations.

“There are really, really a lot of people out there who are having issues that we can’t help,” Dool said. “We don’t have the proverbial hammer to let go, at the end of the day, as we did before Covid, to get help from these people and in properties consistent with maintaining state ownership (code) . “

“I hope that will change soon and that we will reduce the time (waiting for the court). I just don’t have a definitive answer yet.

“A situation of hell”

Lupo said, ironically, that she was not sure whether she would require rental property owners to have renewable certificates, but she is a dog owner.

“Anything that could happen with my dogs could be considered a public health issue. If they are not up to date with their vaccinations, it could be a public health problem. If I let them run unchecked it could be a public health problem. So if I have to go to town once a year to register my dogs with the town …. ”

“It’s a pretty weird way of looking at it, but we have to do better for almost half of our city residents who live in apartments,” Lupo said.

Vercruysse says his living conditions are deteriorating. To this reporter, he sent photos showing what he thinks was black mold in his apartment, as well as the contents of his refrigerator after Kelley shut off power to her kitchen.

“I don’t know what else to do,” he said. ” I have tried everything. These bed bugs are horrible! They’re driving my girlfriend mentally crazy, because they’re going to drive you crazy. … I spray. I use countless insect sprays. I spent hundreds of dollars fixing a bigger problem than spraying. My only roommate moved, he couldn’t stand it. Bed bugs were infested in her DVD player, in her air mattress.

“I hope (Kelley) fixes the problem, but I doubt it,” Vercruysse said. “Right now my hands are tied. I have a baby coming. So I am doing my part as a tenant. It’s just that he hassled me all the time for the rent money and I hadn’t paid rent for two months because he wasn’t fixing the problem. … It’s just a hell of a situation.

Kelley was contacted by this reporter and he declined to comment on the situation.

For more information on environmental issues in housing, call the Environmental Health Division of the Niagara County Department of Health at 439-7444.

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