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Residents: Bed bug problem out of control at Aurora apartment complex

For past month Deborah Batiest her family have been living out bags because their apartment is infested with bed bugs.

For the past month Deborah Batiest and her family have been living out of bags because their apartment is infested with bed bugs. Batiest, a resident at the Forest Ridge complex in Aurora since 2003, said the bugs have been an issue at the complex for the past few years but nobody has wanted to speak out. Here, Batiest and her daughter Juliah, 10, pick out their clothes for the day from a trash bag so that the bugs can't get to them on Friday morning, June 29, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Bed Bug Facts

All they need to survive is a hiding place and blood source.

At night, bed bugs will move as far as 20 feet to seek warm bodies, leaving their hiding places in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, night stands, curtains, couches and wall voids. They are also behind baseboards, carpet edges, door and window frames, peeling paint and wallpaper.

Bed bugs do not transmit pathogens to humans. However, there can be a strong allergic reaction to the bite.

Controlling bed bugs must be done by a professional, and takes considerable time and technical knowledge.

Under the best of situations, at least two separate visits by professional pest control technicians should be expected.

Bed bugs can survive without feeding for as long as a year, and they often hitchhike on luggage, bedding, furniture and backpacks.

Some infestations go undetected and are allowed to expand until someone reactive to the bites presents with the inflammation and swelling that signal the presence of bed bugs.

SOURCE: Elgin Office of Code Enforcement

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Updated: August 2, 2012 6:20AM

It’s been a while since I last visited Forest Ridge apartments. The first time I covered a story at this low-income subsidized complex back in the mid-’90s, it was known as The Woodlands. And Aurora police dubbed it the most dangerous place in town, as gangbangers and other lowlifes terrorized the property with violence and intimidation.

Then the city and feds got involved, new owners took over, and I was happy to report on the successful transformation that took place in this once-crime-riddled complex on Second Avenue on the near East Side.

But last week I visited Forest Ridge again because residents there were dealing with a new kind of fear.

Instead of thugs, it’s now bugs. Bed bugs, to be exact. And in all honesty, I was more nervous about meeting up with those creepy crawlers at the complex than I ever was dealing with the vermin walking around on two legs there.

There’s just something about bed bugs. Even as I write these words, I feel the urge to itch my legs ... and my neck ... and wait, I think I feel something on my lower back ...

It’s hard to blame residents for being up in arms — some of them showed me nasty little bites on those arms — and a few other body parts. They tell me at least 20 units have been infested. And they are critical of management — Professional Property Management — which they insist has been too slow to respond and is not recognizing the need to treat all 89 units, whether bugs have been seen there or not, in order to eradicate the problem.

Tenants told me they are sleeping on air mattresses, living out of garbage bags; and many have thrown out all their furniture in an attempt to deal with the ongoing problem. Florine Winfield, who showed me multiple bites on her body, says she now sleeps upright in a chair to keep the bugs from attacking.

When a complaint is registered, she added, it can take 10 days to two weeks to get an exterminator in. “In the meantime, the bugs continue to spread,” Winfield says.

In frustration last week, Deborah Batiest collected a few bed bugs in a jar and dumped them on the manager’s desk. The response? “They freaked out,” she says, ordering her to leave, locking the doors, leaving and not returning until exterminators treated the office that same day.

On Thursday, Batiest, who lives on the third floor, received an eviction notice that cited the incident in the office as a disruption to the health and safety of others — as well as “admitting to dragging your items from your unit with bed bugs on them through the hallway in an attempt to spread bed bugs to other units.”

Since Batiest lives on the third floor, I’m not sure how she was expected to get the infested items out of the complex. It’s a question I would have posed to them, but on-site management refused to talk to me; and corporate did not return my phone calls.

Forest Ridge Tenant Council president Linda Hughes claims that more units are infested but residents “are afraid to speak up.” She says she recently spent more than $80 on laundry in two days trying to keep up with the bed bugs scurrying across her couch and mattress. “I’m on a fixed income,” Hughes added, “and can’t afford to keep doing this.”

Neither can resident Jocelynn Stewart, who claims “Hefty is getting rich on me,” because she and her four children have to continually bag up their clothing, toys and books to keep the bugs from spreading. After throwing out the beds in her home, she said, “there’s no money for my daughter’s 7th birthday.”

Infestation on the rise

Bed bugs, of course, aren’t just a problem at Forest Ridge. Experts say the resurgence in bed bugs nationwide has to do with increased global travel and trade; an increase in secondhand merchandise; more transient workers; and possible changes in bed bug habits. Also, people do not recognize the signs of their infestation. Until recently, most people under 50 had never even seen a bed bug.

Aurora spokesman Kevin Stahr says the city has received a dozen bed bugs complaints this year, many more than in the past. When complaints come in, he says, the Division of Property Standards works with owners to address the issue. They have all “been easy to work with,” including Forest Ridge management — which, he said, is addressing this infestation.

Elgin property codes manager Vince Cuchetto has also seen the problem continue to grow over the last several years. It’s become such an issue, he noted, that the city has written a policy specifically to address it. It’s hard enough to get rid of bed bugs in a single-family residence, but in multiunit buildings it becomes even more difficult because they can easily spread.

Employees from the Elgin’s health department, Cuchetto said, have the same reaction as most of us when discussing this topic. When they have to go into homes to check things out, “They wear booties, rubber gloves and windbreakers,” he noted. “They don’t want to be bringing any of those bed bugs home with them.”

Which is probably why Forest Ridge management had an exterminator back on Friday — cleaning out the office yet again.

One anonymous resident called to defend the owners, insisting the residents with bed bugs “need to quarantine themselves,” instead of “hanging out in the courtyard” as their children play around them.

But Hughes says they are not about to “live like prisoners” because management isn’t doing all it can.

“It’s pretty sad,” she added, “when you feel safer sleeping outside.”

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