By Joe Dolinsky – firstname.lastname@example.org
WILKES-BARRE — More than a dozen current and former tenants at the Lincoln Plaza apartments have sued the property manager and city housing authority for allegedly concealing a severe bed bug infestation that has rendered the complex “essentially uninhabitable.”
Seventeen tenants allege housing authority officials and Donna Kozak, manager of the 200-unit public housing project, failed to address an infestation tenants reported in 2013, causing the apartments to become overrun with the tiny parasitic insects.
Lincoln Plaza is at the intersection of East Northampton Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, says Kozak concealed the infestation from residents and prospective tenants by repeatedly denying any bed bugs were present. She allegedly warned residents not to discuss the infestation and threatened to evict people who voiced their concerns, according to the lawsuit.
“Today, bed bugs can be found on every floor of all three buildings at Lincoln Plaza, in multiple apartments on each floor, as well as in common areas, including hallways, elevators, and the resident community room,” says the lawsuit, filed by Kingston-based attorney Peter C. Wood Jr.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, bed bugs are small, oval-shaped brown insects — about the size of an apple seed — that feed on blood and cause itchy bites. Mainly active at night, they are not known to transmit or spread disease, but can “create other public health issues” if ignored, the agency says.
The infestation has made the apartments “dangerous and essentially uninhabitable,” and caused residents “loss of sleep, anxiety, aggravation, inconvenience, emotional distress, health-related problems and loss of personal property,” the lawsuit alleges.
According to the filing, 15 of the plaintiffs still live at the apartments. The other two moved out in May. All are at least 62 years old.
The tenants are forced to pay rent for apartments that no longer have fair rental value, the lawsuit argues.
The Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority owns and operates the housing project, which consists of a 10-floor, 150-unit high rise and two smaller buildings with 25 units each. Most of the residents are elderly, low-income families or have mental or physical disabilities, the suit says.
Messages left at the housing authority were not immediately returned.
In addition to damages, the lawsuit seeks orders requiring the extermination of the insects and certifying it as a class action.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL