Shell House resident shares their experience with bedbugs to The Peak

“I don’t think anyone understands what a massive detriment to my mental health this was.”

A poorly prepared room became a nightmare for an incoming student. Photo credit to Chris Ho

By: Sarah Russo, SFU Student

Picture this: you move into a new dorm room, excited for a new start in a place all your own (or, at least, you think it’s all your own). You crawl into bed for the first night and at 1:30 a.m., you wake and realize bedbugs are crawling all over you. What a warm welcome.

Sonia (whose name was changed for privacy), a first year student at SFU, faced a similar story this year. A combination of poor communication and uncompassionate policies led to an exhausting few weeks to start off Spring 2020. One would expect that if a school-administered room — paid for by the student — was infested with bedbugs, it would prompt a swift response from housing facilities. This was not the case, as Sonia shared with The Peak. We reached out to Resident and Housing to learn more about their regular procedures for working with bedbugs. 

Sonia’s bedbug difficulties began in the early morning of Saturday, January 11. Sonia tried to communicate her concerns about Shell House to the Residence and Housing office. She was informed that other accommodations would not be provided to her for the night. This led to Sonia having to spend the night on the floor of a friend’s room. For a lot of students living on residence, this is the first time they’ve lived on their own. There is an expectation that the school will take care of them in emergency situations like this. Being told that one is effectively homeless due to circumstances entirely outside of their control — in addition to being in a new place, surrounded by new people — is understandably frightening. 

Later, Sonia submitted a maintenance request online and provided photos of the live bedbugs. Her claim of live bedbugs was initially questioned by the Residence representative who suggested that the crawling balls of joy on her floor were likely just dead bugs. The office claimed that a K9 (canine) inspection had been performed on January 8, and the results came back negative. Just to be safe, another K9 inspection was ordered, and live bugs were confirmed. 

According to a statement sent to The Peak by Leon Kalligerakis, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Residence & Housing Communication Team, details about Sonia’s case could not be discussed due to confidentiality and privacy reasons. He noted that SFU Residence and Housing’s bedbug policy is available online, though “the procedures we have in place must be flexible to account for different factors in each case. 

“There are a number of steps that we take following a report of suspected bed bug activity in a residence room. We first bring in a technician with a dog trained to detect both live bed bugs and bed bug eggs to confirm the presence,” Kalligerakis wrote. “If the presence of bed bugs has been confirmed, we then schedule treatment of the room and educate the resident on how to prepare for the treatment. Rooms are treated with heat that kills both live bugs and eggs. A residual chemical treatment is put around a room’s perimeter as a precaution against bed bugs trying to enter the room.” 

30 days after the initial treatment, rooms are re-inspected as “a precaution to ensure bed bugs have not been reintroduced to the room.” As stated by Kalligerakis, the typical timeline between reporting bedbugs and the room’s treatment is a week to 10 days.

A heat treatment was scheduled for Friday, January 24. Prior to the heat treatment, Sonia emailed again asking if certain items had to be cleared from the room. She told The Peak that she received no reply. According to Kalligerakis, residents are responsible for their personal items while the room is being cleaned — though they are supposed to receive instructions “on how best to manage these personal belongs (sic)* to eliminate any bedbugs.” 

On the scheduled day, the treatment was postponed, first by snowfall, and then due to concerns about potential damage to items left in the room — after an inquiry had already been made about them. 

At this point, Sonia had been out of her paid room for two weeks, trying everything she could to make this problem go away. SFU Residence and Housing’s website outlines that Shell House currently costs $3,040 per term (with an optional meal plan that may range from $2,000 to $2,600). The first two nights Sonia spent in a hotel came to an extra $272 expense, while subsequent stays in another hotel were paid for by a family member’s reward points. At that point, it appeared that the only thing that Sonia had done wrong in this situation was to make the poor decision to take a room in Shell to begin with.

In addition to the stress of being indefinitely homeless, and with the disgusting thought of bedbugs in her mind, Sonia faced additional monetary losses from laundry supplies, necessary drycleaning, and the cost of the hotel she was forced to stay at due to a lack of accommodation during the treatment. Residence and Housing did eventually offer Sonia a pre-loaded laundry card to cover the cost of bedbug cleaning which, according to Kalligerakis, is the compensation offered to students in these situations. Sonia received a $20 card. Additionally, students are provided with plastic bags for transporting items to and from the laundry room, as well as bins for storing items salvaged from infested rooms.

Sonia and her friends made the best of the situation and did their best to use humour to cope with the situation. The name tag outside of the contaminated room was briefly updated to reflect its current inhabitants. “My name is: Bedbugs / I am studying: How to ruin students’ lives / I grew up in: Sonia’s bed / I like to destress by: Munching on toes / My favourite food is: Human flesh / My favourite movie quote is: “Good night don’t let the bed bugs bite.”   

As of now, Sonia lives in another building. For weeks, she was afraid to enter her old room to access her belongings, uncertain whether or not the job had actually been done correctly, or if she would be bringing the bedbugs with her into another room. 

“Throughout the entire process, there are multiple communication touchpoints and steps taken between Residence and Housing and the resident reporting an issue,” Kalligerakis writes. “This continues as the reporting, inspection and treatment procedures unfold. Each party has a role in resolving an issue in an affected room as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

Sonia was careful to note that, “I don’t think anyone understands what a massive detriment to my mental health this was [ . . . ] not having a safe place to sleep, not having access to my things, constantly trying to fight for accommodation in terms of detergent/laundry cards/etc. [I]t was also a massive blow to my academics [because] it was all-consuming.” 

She stresses however, that the people working her case were “incredibly sympathetic” and that “the system [ . . . ] is flawed, not the people working there.”