When the bedbugs first crawled from the walls and started biting her children, Yadira Rodriguez did what she could to stop them.
She threw out her furniture and the family's beds, and bought air mattresses instead. She washed all their clothing and took it to her mother's house across town, where she now changes for her job as a chiropractor's assistant.
But nothing has worked. Bedbugs -- tiny bugs that feed on blood -- have infested her apartment at 186 Lawrence St. in Hartford since June, leaving Rodriguez to do everything she can think of to try and stop the pests from biting her three children at night.
"They wake up and say, `Mommy, they are in our bed again,'" she said.
Rodriguez has asked the city and her landlord for help, and several efforts have been made to fumigate the three-bedroom apartment in the city's Frog Hollow section, where she's lived for three years.
But now, Rodriguez says, her landlord is moving to evict her. The landlord, Related Management Co. of New York, has filed eviction papers against her in court, saying it is Rodriguez who has caused the problem, she said.
And three other single mothers who live in the complex - Basti Cruz, Rosa Mendez and Joanna Acevedo - were also given eviction papers last week. Some could be forced to leave as early as next week.
Acevedo, who has a disabled son, has scars up and down her arms from the bites. Cruz, a mother of two, said her son now has asthma. Mendez, a mother of four, has pictures on her cellphone of her 7-year-old daughter's arms swollen with large hives.
All were accused in court by their landlord of being a nuisance.
"They are blaming it on us," Rodriguez said. "They just can't find a solution. So the solution for them is to kick us out."
Three of the four women admit they are behind in rent, but say they have the money to pay and are withholding it because of the pest problems. Cruz said she has paid in full.
The real problem, they say, is the building itself, which is infested with more than just bedbugs.
"Just go into the basement!" Cruz said Wednesday. "You'll see."
The basement, they said, is overrun by rats, mice, bedbugs and other insects.
Mendez said she has begged the local managers for help since she received the eviction notice, but has gotten no response.
"I went to the office yesterday, shaking, in tears, feeling sick, and said, `Please, give us a place or something, because November is coming. We have nowhere to go,'" Mendez said Wednesday.
No one from the local management office for the building returned calls for comment Wednesday. Their attorney, Edward Czaczkes of Norwich, also did not return calls for comment. And Pat Castrataro, the management company's district manager, referred all questions to company president Jeff Brodsky, who did not return calls Wednesday.
The rents at the complex, called Casa Nueva Apartments, are subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Federal officials said Wednesday they had inspected the apartment complex last October and had given it a clean bill of health. They have not inspected since then, they said.
The city's licenses and inspections department did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Rodriguez said she complained to the department in July about the bug infestation. The city then asked the landlord to handle the problem, prompting the fumigation, she said.
The city has had no other involvement with the four mothers until Tuesday, when the women met with Carlos Rivera, acting director of health and human services, about their struggles.
Rivera said his department was looking into the health matters. And as news reporters started asking questions about the situation Wednesday, a licensing inspector was again dispatched to the building.
State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez was on the scene Wednesday, offering her help, after learning of the women's situation.
In the meantime, Rodriguez is doing what she can.
She taped up holes in the walls and windows, hoping the bugs wouldn't creep into their sheets in the dark. The room of her youngest daughter, a 3-year-old, now sits virtually empty, containing only a wooden stand with a TV and a pink "Dora the Explorer" big wheel pushed into the corner.
Rodriguez said she cries each time she walks into the room.
Her sons, who sleep together on an air mattress in a room adorned with Spider-Man posters, often wake at night to see bugs scurrying across their walls and mattress. They then beg their mother for new sheets, she said.
Bedbugs are small wingless insects that eat the blood of warm-blooded animals and grow to a quarter inch in length. They like small crevices, nesting in mattresses, furniture and clothing.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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