February 20, 2019

Flea infestation plagues residents

Observer photo by Jason Starr
A canine resident of the apartment building at 212 Day Lane stops outside the building Monday. The dog is battling a flea infestation that has worsened this summer.

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Multiple common areas and apartments in a 31-unit building on Day Lane are infested with fleas, causing one family with small children to vacate the building.

The three-story building known as “The Hamlet” allows pets, and landlord Brett Grabowski of Milot Real Estate, which is headquartered just up the road on Day Lane, attributes the problem to tenants’ dogs. After an inspection Friday by Town Health Officer Cindy Thurston, Grabowski agreed to hire an exterminator to treat affected apartments and common areas.

Tenant Neil Walker first realized the extent of the problem when he inspected his black lab’s belly last week after the 4-year-old dog had been scratching more than normal.

“When I turned him over the fleas were running like field mice,” Walker said. “There was just an absurd amount of flea bites on him.”

Walker then noticed flea feces on his carpet. He said he talked with other tenants who have been dealing with fleas this summer.

“They are in our grass, in our common areas, in our elevator, in our hallways, in our dwelling, on our pets, on our kids and on us,” Walker said. “It is a renter’s nightmare.”

One resident, who asked not to be identified, agreed: “We have them, we fight them. It’s gotten worse,” he said.

Walker’s fiancé and their two children — 2 years old and 9 years old — have left the building and are staying with nearby relatives.

Walker has remained in the apartment and tried a number of different chemical and natural remedies. His dog, he said, is regularly treated with a flea prevention product called Frontline. Walker has also tried carpet cleaner, chemical sprays and a natural product called diatomaceous earth. He has also bagged up the family’s clothes and wrapped furniture in plastic in order to “flea bomb” the apartment with chemicals.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “I’m working around the clock so we can get our children back in the house … Our biggest concern is using too many chemicals.”

The costs have exceeded $600, Walker said.

Walker and the tenant who wished to remain anonymous both said their landlord did not initially take responsibility for the problem. According to Vermont’s Rental Housing Health Code, a landlord is responsible for exterminating a pest infestation if the infestation is found in more than one unit.

Grabowski said tenants with pets sign an addendum to their leases that puts the responsibility on them for fleas brought into their apartments by their dogs.

“(Fleas) get into the building because we allow pets,” he said. “That’s the tradeoff.

“I’ll be paying for it,” he added, “even though they are responsible for their own units. And if someone else contacts us with an issue, then we’ll deal with that on a case-by-case basis.”

According to Walker, a contractor that Grabowski recommended he call, Nature’s Way Pest Control, said treating individual units in the three-story building would not solve the problem — the entire building would need to be treated. Calls to Nature’s Way seeking comment were not returned.

The exceptional July heat has created favorable conditions for flea populations, according to State Entomologist Judy Rosovsky.

“Fleas like warmth,” she said. “Humidity helps, too.”

In addition to chemical treatments, Rosovsky recommends frequent vacuuming and washing and drying clothes on high heat to treat the problem. De-humidifiers also help.

Dogs, she said, amplify the problem.

“Getting rid of (fleas) once they become established is difficult.”

That has certainly been Walker’s experience.

“After all our treatments and hard work over the entire week, the fleas are still here in our apartment,” he said in a Tuesday morning update.

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