Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 20
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
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Tenants Endure Bedbug Plague Due to Standoff

Dilshanie Perera

The bedbug infestation at 205 Nassau Street continues to disrupt tenant lives and livelihoods, with resident Robert Carlson noting that the case is “insanity at its finest,” since no attempts to exterminate the insects have yet been made.

Mr. Carlson is one of the tenants in the building, which is owned by Sanford Zeitler, who has been struggling with the bedbug escalation since last August. In February of this year, another tenant called the Health Department, which sent an inspector to take a look at the premises. With the infestation confirmed, those living in the building were urged to throw out their belongings that had become home to the tenacious parasites.

Everything from furniture, carpeting, clothing, mattresses, and bedding had to go, and despite that, the bed bugs remain. Mr. Carlson noted that he now sleeps on the floor after his air mattress was punctured by splinters from the hardwood floor that were exposed when the carpeting was removed. “I don’t even have a pillow,” he said, “I’ve been living out of bags since February.”

“A bedbug bite is like a hot needle poking you … it’s the most painful thing,” he lamented. “If I had known what I now know when I moved in here, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Borough Councilman Roger Martindell reported that “the tenants are willing to work with the landlord to eradicate the bedbugs. They’re very interested that the bedbug treatment proceed as soon as possible, because it is very difficult for them.”

Recently, Mr. Zeitler agreed to pay for tenant housing for three days at the Sleepy Hollow Motel on Route 1 in Lawrence, as well as providing payment for the tenants to launder their belongings, but was unwilling to pay for transportation costs between Lawrence and Princeton or food costs, Mr. Martindell reported.

Since the Borough seemed open to the idea of assisting with transportation and food, Mr. Martindell drafted an agreement that the parties could sign to ensure the services were provided, but Mr. Zeitler refused to sign it and refused to amend the agreement.

“We have a standoff,” Mr. Martindell lamented. “The real problem that I see is there is no concerted effort in municipal government to tackle the issue. The Health Commission is lending its ear. The Human Services Director is lending her ear. The Administrator is lending his ear. The Prosecutor is filing an action … the problem is that no one in the Borough is enforcing it. Everyone is standing around waiting for someone else to enforce the ordinance.”

Legally, landlords are obligated to address bedbugs and other infestations if the problem is spread into two or more units of a building. This is the case at 205 Nassau Street. Mr. Martindell described the plight the tenants face as “expensive, annoying, a danger to health, and a danger to public safety.”

Calling for a “meeting of the minds” in order to resolve the situation, Mr. Martindell expressed concern as to the delay. “Why the Borough would allow a landlord of Mr. Zeitler’s history to get away with this treatment of his tenants is beyond belief. It shows a major dysfunction with Borough government … it shouldn’t take weeks.”

Chalking up the delay in remediating the insect problem to a “lack of empathy with the tenants by the landlord,” Mr. Martindell said, “I think it’s a cheap approach to managing a rental dwelling.”

Health Officer David Henry also noted that “the extermination process should have started long ago. For it to be delayed like this is unacceptable.”

The case will come before the municipal court judge this Monday, and further action will be taken at that time. “The final decisions are up to the judge. Our original intent, and our continuing intent, is to make sure the extermination process takes place in a humane fashion and provides relief to the tenants,” Mr. Henry emphasized.

Mr. Zeitler said about the bedbug case, “It’s being handled by an exterminator and the Board of Health, and it’s progressing. No other comment.”

In the meantime, for Mr. Carlson, who gets “bitten nightly,” the situation continues to be “a nightmare.”

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