LEWISTON — It’s the most depressing moving day ever for Kathleen Schidzig and her family.
They’ve been forced out of the single-family home they rented on Spring Street because raw sewage is filling the basement and running through the backyard. The building has been condemned; the city ruling it unfit for occupancy.
But all of the pictures are still on the walls, the televisions and computers are still plugged in and all of the children’s books are on the shelves. Not a single box or suitcase is packed for the move.
All of the beds are made. Furniture didn’t go with them when the family moved to Portland late Thursday. Neither did the clothes, packed away in dressers, nor the toys collected in corners.
“None of it can come,” Schidzig said. “I feel weird, because everything is a mess. But what’s the point in cleaning anything up?”
The sewage may be forcing the family out, but the bedbugs infesting the building are forcing them to leave everything behind, save for the clothes on their backs. It’s all being abandoned for fear of spreading the infestation to their new home.
Sewage and bedbugs: It’s doubly bad for Schidzig, fiance Kenneth Hardy and their four children, Brandon, 12, Kenny 4, Aiyaana, 2, and Alex, 10 months.
Hardy is a mason and Schidzig a student, and they are starting over entirely from scratch.
“I don’t really care about the clothes, the TVs or any of that,” Schidzig said Thursday morning. “I care about my kids, what this is doing to them.”
They have a new apartment in Portland and have managed to round up some used furniture from Goodwill, the Salvation Army and Knights of Columbus.
“We can’t afford to fumigate any of this,” Hardy said. “I’d sell it, but then I’d just be passing the bedbug problem along to someone else, and I wouldn’t do that. So we really have no choice.”
The family has spent the last few days in the apartment cataloging everything they’re leaving behind. They’ll need it when they take landlord and building owner Buddy Aiken of Alfred to court over the state of the building.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this all existed long before we moved in,” Schidzig said. “He knew about it, and he rented it anyway. And now we’re caught.”
Aiken has a different story.
“If there’s bedbugs, she brought them with her,” he said Thursday. “We cleaned that house before she moved in. There wasn’t a flea, not a bedbug, not a problem until she was in there. She brought them in. She grew the bedbugs and spread them all over the house.”
Everything was fine when the family moved in shortly before Christmas, Schidzig said.
“The carpeting was a little dirty, but we said that was OK,” she said. “We told him we’d get those cleaned.”
A few weeks in, however, she began noticing a rash on her arm. Then the rash spread to her children. On top of that, the family began suffering some sort of stomach malady, with nausea and diarrhea.
“We didn’t know what it was,” she said. They suspected fleas, but an exterminator confirmed the presence of bedbugs. That explained the rash, Schidzig said.
“We pulled a mirror off the wall, and there were literal nests behind it,” Hardy said. “They were just in the wall, but nobody was living here and they were dormant. As soon as we moved in, they began moving around. We woke them up.”
Schidzig claims Aiken instructed her to hire an exterminator and agreed to reimburse her. She did, paying $900 to fumigate the building in January. Then, they wound up in court in February when Schidzig and Hardy failed to pay that month’s $800 rent.
“I thought that would be the easiest way to reimburse us for the exterminator,” she said.
Aiken disputes that. He paid for the exterminators, he said. Schidzig was behind in her rent and facing eviction as of March 31.
Schidzig said she contacted the city in March when it was clear the extermination hadn’t worked, and Code Enforcement Officer Tom Maynard came out to look around.
“I was there to look at the bedbugs, but I smelled something else,” Maynard said. He looked around the back and found black water and suspected sewage clogging the cellar. That would explain the family’s stomach problems, Schidzig said.
“Everything was frozen when we moved in and covered in snow,” Hardy said. “We didn’t know about the sewage until later on when it started to thaw out. Then we could smell it.”
Maynard immediately condemned the building, giving everyone until April 30 to fix the problems or clear out.
Maynard said the city did contact Aiken two years ago about a broken sewer pipe in the basement of 29 Spring St. He was told it was fixed.
Aiken says his property is fixed. That the sewage is coming from a city pipe off of his property.
“I’ve seen it, spraying green water into my backyard,” he said. “It’s coming from somewhere, the hospital or a factory or something, and it flows into my backyard and then into that cellar. It’s a wet basement, and it’s going to have water. But it’s not a broken pipe. There is nothing there for me to fix.”
But Aiken said he can’t fight the condemnation. He’s already facing a March 16 foreclosure on the building for $110,479.30 he owes to CitiMortgage Inc. Lewiston assesses the building at $47,550, according to tax records.
“How can you fix something that doesn’t exist?” he said. “There’s no broken pipe, so there’s nothing I can do. It’s the city’s fault, and they refuse to fix that pipe dumping on to my property.”
The condemnation order still stands as of April 30, Maynard said, for the owner to either fix the problems or demolish the building.
Schidzig said they are worried someone will come in and claim all of the things they’ve left behind, but there’s little they can do. Everything, from pots and pans to the children’s play sets are suspect.
“I hope that doesn’t happen, because they’ll just be spreading the bedbugs everywhere,” she said.
The family had taken to sleeping on a white sheet in the middle of the living room.
“You can see them crawling toward you,” Hardy said. They kept baby-food jars filled with water at hand to collect the bedbugs.
“You don’t want to squish them when you pick them up, because you’re just squishing blood,” he said. “So we put them in these jars to get rid of them.”