They’re everywhere!

Bedbugs found in several public schools; council introduces legislation making landlords responsible

Just the mere mention of the word “bedbugs” makes the skin crawl.
When the critters are found in one’s home, workplace, or school, the physical and psychological impact is enormous, from the amount of money that must be spent on extermination to the amount of time spent worrying about being bitten.
Parents of schoolchildren at three Jersey City public schools are upset and concerned after hearing that those schools – P.S. 16 on Washington Street, P.S. 22 on Van Horne Street, and P.S. 41 on Ocean Avenue – were found to have bedbugs on the premises, with little or no notification by the school district even several days after the discovery. Some parents confronted Jersey City schools superintendent Dr. Charles Epps after a community meeting about the school system on Wednesday at the Mary McLeod Bethune Community Center on Martin Luther King Drive.


“I know it can be a problem; it’s a problem all over Jersey City.” – Kimberly Lee

The same night the bedbug issue was in front of the City Council. They introduced an ordinance amending the city’s code that outlines the responsibilities of building owners for exterminating pests in housing of more than two units.
The amendments increase the number of units to be fumigated, require the landlord to hire a “certified exterminator,” and hold the landlord responsible for exterminating the first time if a tenant complains. But if a new problem arises within the same year with the same tenant, then the tenant is responsible.
That amended ordinance is subject to a second and final vote at the next council meeting on Oct. 27.

Dealing with the problem

Bedbugs are night-dwelling insects, usually about 4–5 mm in length and 1.5–3 mm wide. They are difficult to eradicate because they live in hard-to-reach areas in homes and can survive temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bedbug exterminators usually employ pesticides, but have even tried deep freeze to get rid of them.
And exterminators have been busy in Jersey City this past year.
City spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said, based on information kept by the Division of Health and the Division of Housing Code enforcement – both of whom take and respond to complaints made by citizens in Jersey City – from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1, there have been more than 200 bedbug complaints to Housing Code Enforcement, with about three-quarters of these complaints verified with a bedbug violation. And during the same time period, the Division of Health received and responded to 223 bedbug complaints.

It really bugs them

Epps, with help from executive assistant John Chester, confirmed after Wednesday’s community meeting that P.S. 16, 22, and 41 were the three schools found to have bedbugs so far this month and all three have been fumigated.
Chester said that parents were not notified immediately about the problem at the respective schools because state law states that once there is confirmation of any pest such as a bedbug, authorities have 72 hours to issue a notification.
Epps was adamant that only three schools were affected and that “every regulation was followed.” Chester said each school had to be treated with “non-chemical” measures such as vacuum and sanitizing before there was any spraying.
But that’s little reassurance for Ebony Curry, the mother of four-year-old Zyianna, who attends Pre-K at P.S. 22. Curry, at the time of this interview, had kept her daughter out of school for at least three days after being notified on Oct. 8 by school staff that the school had been exterminated the week before.
She thinks the school should have been closed down for a few days after the extermination just to be certain that no bedbugs were present, and that it should keep spraying if there is still any evidence.
“If I had known that there were bedbugs before that letter, I would have kept my daughter home,” Curry said. “I don’t want to take any chances of bedbugs coming into my home. I don’t need trouble like that.”
Kimberly Lee has two children – a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader at P.S. 41 – both of whom she said came home with bedbug bites on Tuesday, a few days after the school had been fumigated (last weekend). Lee said she only found out about the exterminating from her children on Oct. 8, not from any official letter or verbally from any official.
Lee said she has sent her children back to school but hopes the school district takes care of the bedbug situation.
“I know it can be a problem; it’s a problem all over Jersey City,” Lee said. “But you have to address the problem before they bring it to you.”

Being thorough

In September 2008, the City Council passed an ordinance changing the city’s law on extermination to address the issue of bedbugs.
At that time, it was in response to William Dorrity, who complained of a bedbug problem at Grandview Terrace on Kennedy Boulevard that left him and other tenants with numerous bedbug bites. Dorrity in 2009 sued his landlord for charging him and fellow residents for extermination in the senior citizen building, located in the Journal Square area. He won a judgment in court stipulating that he did not have to pay for extermination.
The ordinance was revisited on Wednesday with revisions that compel landlords to treat nine units in the vicinity of an affected unit – units on either side, units directly above and below, and units on either side of above and below units. Originally, the ordinance called for five units.
Also added to the ordinance is the specification of an exterminator who specializes in bedbug eradication.
The council voted 8-0 (Councilwoman Willie Flood was absent) for introduction of the amended ordinance.
Councilwoman Nidia Lopez championed the revised ordinance, saying it was to address the bedbug problem that continues not just Grandview Terrace, located in her council ward, but all across the city. Lopez also thanked Jersey City Health Department officer Happy Boor, state Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (sponsor of a state bill regarding bedbug eradication), and her colleague, Steven Fulop, who first called for changes in the city’s law to deal with bedbugs.
Fulop said after voting that this was a crisis hitting “urban areas” that needed to be dealt with.
Dorrity spoke again on Wednesday during the public comment period, thanking Lopez and Fulop for the additional standards. He also said a tenant in his building was evicted, and claimed it was because the tenant complained about bedbugs infecting his apartment.
Do you have a problem with bedbugs in your home or business? Visit this story in the Jersey City section of and take our online poll.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at
(Poll closes Oct. 21)

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group