Posted by Craig Waddle on Thursday, February 2, 2012
Updated Management Protocols for Dealing with Apartment Bed Bugs
Please reconsider what you think you know about bed bugs – because most of what we thought we knew about them is wrong. As a professional multifamily manager I have had to become an expert in dealing with these critters. I am writing to share what I have learned and to provide a few tips in dealing with this epidemic.
I met my first bed bugs in 2002 and became fascinated with their physiology. There wasn’t much data available at that time because as far as anyone knew, bed bugs had been eradicated in the United States late in the 1940s through the widespread use of DDT. In 2002, protocols were based on what we knew from old research. Since then these pests have become a global concern and newer studies have dispelled some of our previous beliefs regarding their behavior calling for updated tactics in our war against them.
Old Belief: Bed Bugs don’t migrate.
Not true. Bed bugs do move from country to country, dwelling to dwelling and bed to bed primarily by hitchhiking on people, garments and luggage. However, we now know that once a population has reached “infestation” level in one dwelling, active well fed, bed bugs will migrate via pipes, wires and through holes into adjoining units.
As a result of this new information, once bed bugs have been identified in one apartment an inspection needs to occur in all adjacent units (units on either side; above and below). Even if bed bugs are not found in adjacent units a pesticide treatment is recommended in all adjacent units as a preventative measure.
Old Belief: If you’re bitten you’ll know because bites always leave a bump or rash at the bite site.
Not true. We now know that there are many populations around the world where bed bugs were never eradicated. As a result, many people are immune to the anti-coagulant injected by the bed bug at the bite site and therefore do not react to the bite. It’s the same principal for flees and mosquitoes. If the individual bitten is not allergic to the anti-coagulant then no reaction to the bite will be visible and no irritation will be present. That means that people may be a “bed bug restaurant” and never know it.
Expanding on that principal, we believed that no unit could be infested at turn-over because the prior tenant would have noticed the landlord or management company that they were being eaten by some kind of bug. Knowing that is not always the case does allow for a turn-over unit to be infested at move-in with the prior resident’s bugs. No unit is safe.
Old Belief: Bed bugs always live in or around the bed and not all over the place inside an infested dwelling.
Not true. While the largest populations will be present near areas where people sleep further studies have shown that older female bed bugs will migrate away from the food source to escape attack from aggressive male bed bugs.
What that means to us is that all areas and furniture in an infested unit must be thoroughly treated not just bedding and bed side furniture.
Old Belief: There are pesticides that will work on bed bugs.
Wrong! There are no pesticides that will kill and adult bed bug. There are pesticides that can be used to interrupt the life cycle of bed bugs. For example, some will kill eggs, some will kill nymphs and some will render adult bed bugs sterile but, no pesticide will kill them like poisons used on cock roaches or ants. Pesticide only treatments are recommended for adjacent units where no bed bugs have been found but, in any unit where any size bed bug population has been identified the unit must be treated with heat or freezing.
The only effective treatment is applying heat (usually steam) or by freezing (usually liquid nitrogen) all surfaces in the dwelling. Because the success of the treatment is so dependent on the diligence of the pest control operator all recommended protocols call for one thorough treatment a re-inspection and most likely a second heat/freeze treatment no more than two weeks apart. Then another re-inspection after the second treatment within two weeks of the last treatment and so on until the dwelling can be certified bed bug free.
Old Belief: You can blame the tenant for the bugs and charge them back for the cost of the treatments.
Well, that was true for awhile but not for the past several years in multiple dwelling environments. The cost of eradicating bed bugs is the responsibility of the property owner. Owners are still not liable for the personal possessions that have to be trashed by the Resident, in most cases. However, that may be dependent on the length of time a tenant has been in possession of a dwelling unit at the time they discover an infestation.
In mid 2011, the San Francisco Health Department was able to amend their Director’s Rules and cause property owners to pay a $1,000 per day fine for non-remediated bed bug infestations after the third notice in a twelve-month period.
Time is of the essence. Once notified of a possible infestation owners and managers need to work fast. First inspect and then treat as quickly as possible. Law suits around bed bugs have steadily risen over the past 12 years and payouts are high. These pests continue to present a huge liability for landlords and managers. Landlords and managers are advised to make sure that property insurance includes coverage for bed bug litigation.
Man’s Best Friend is a Helpful Ally
Not a lot has changed in the detection and treatment protocols over the past decade except for the inclusion of specially trained dogs that can “sniff out” bed bugs. This is an incredible tool as these dogs are 99% effective in detecting live bugs. There are a handful of companies that offer this service and the cost is very reasonable. Large scale owners or managers might want to consider including this service as part of the turn-over process to insure bed bug free rentals.
New Recommendations on the way from the San Francisco Health Department
In September of 2011 the San Francisco Health Department held several “stakeholder” meetings with representatives from the property management and pest control communities to develop new recommended protocols and to amend their Director’s Rules and Regulations on Controlling Bed Bug Infestations. We anticipate a review of the “new” recommendations sometime before June this year.
Look forward to future updates on combating these amazing little buggers.
Mr. Waddle is a Real Estate Broker specializing in residential and mixed-use property who has managed thousands of units in San Francisco. He is an experienced forensic consultant and expert witness in residential landlord/tenant disputes.