Bed bugs are probably every landlord and tenant’s worst nightmare. And, the day my roommates and I had to tell ours we’d found a few in our couch was incredibly stressful. But at the time we thought, this is the worst it can get: now that our landlord knows, they’ll take care of it and everything will be fine.
Unfortunately, it was just the beginning. Our landlord’s lack of response turned it into a month’s-long nightmare, involving the health department, exterminators, and lawyers. And at the end of the whole ordeal, we had to move to a new apartment anyway.
From that experience, I’ve learned there are a few things you should absolutely avoid doing. Do not:
- Underestimate them: While bedbugs aren’t considered medically harmful and don’t transmit diseases between humans, they multiply quickly and their bites can cause serious skin irritations. Research has also shown that bedbug victims can suffer from anxiety, depression, and paranoia, so take your tenants’ reports seriously and act quickly. Never assume that the situation will handle itself or that your tenants can take care of it.
- Handle it yourself: You might be a great handyman, but bed bugs require professional extermination. They’re resistant to nearly all store-bought chemicals, and require advanced techniques to eliminate them. Whether it’s chemical, heat, or fumigation, only a professional can determine the proper response. Not to mention, in many states, only licensed Pest Control Officers are allowed to administer treatments by law. Bedbugs are very sensitive to disturbances in their environment, so home remedies only serve to drive them into hiding (or into adjoining units, but more on that later).
- Place blame: It’s easy to assume the tenant who found the bugs brought them into the building. In many states, this doesn’t even matter: landlords are required to pay for bedbug treatment no matter what. However, even if a tenant recently traveled or brought in second-hand furniture, it is nearly impossible to prove where the pests came from. Bedbugs are mostly nocturnal, and 30-50% of people don’t react to bites, allowing them to go undetected. That, combined with their ability to survive dormant for as long as two years, means that they can be left by previous tenants, even through a lengthy vacancy. The only thing that matters is that the bugs are there and they need to be dealt with.
- Focus on one unit: The most common misconception about bedbugs is that they only live in beds. In truth, they’ll live anywhere dark and hidden, including under carpets, in baseboards or moldings, and even inside walls. They can easily move through a multi-unit building, so if bugs are found in one apartment, the first step should be to professionally inspect all adjoining units to see how far the infestation has spread.
- Assume they’re gone after one treatment: It’s incredibly important to remain diligent about regular treatments and follow-up inspections. Typically this means treatments and inspections every 1-2 weeks. Because bed bugs breed so quickly, time is of the essence. Don’t expect your PCO to be timely on their own; call them up and make sure your follow-ups are scheduled.
And here are two things you absolutely should do:
- Communicate with your tenants and make it clear that the situation is being taken seriously. Including educational content in your move-in packet will help your tenants recognize and report bed bugs. The EPA has several handouts prepared specifically for this purpose.
- Add an addendum to your lease will help ensure that tenants report infestations and cooperate with treatments, saving you headaches in the long run.
With proper cooperation, communication, and treatment, bedbugs don’t have to be a property management nightmare.Read more on Maintenance & Improvements