I live at McCarthy Manor, which is a HUD-subsidized apartment building, and we have bedbugs. I have lived in apartments since 1966 and never have had bedbugs before. Therein lies the story: nobody was prepared for the problem. As the manager of this building said, “We’ve had a steep learning curve.”
So here’s what we’ve learned about how to cope with bedbugs in an apartment building, and I hope somebody tells HUD. I asked the HUD guy in the field office if somebody was working on a policy for dealing with bedbugs. He said he was sure somebody was.
Who? I asked.
Beats me, he answered. He said it’s probably somebody in Washington, but he couldn’t give me any link to anybody anywhere—not even to his boss.
Here’s the nature of reality: the reason the government screws everything up is because they sit and talk to each other instead of talking to the end-point user who has the problem and has learned a few things about how to deal with it. So if you, the reader, know anybody at HUD, pass this along to them, will you? Six degrees of separation—who do you know who might know somebody who knows somebody else? Pass it along.
At McCarthy Manor, all tenants are required to have their possessions fumigated while on the mover’s truck. When I first heard this, it made me mad but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. The way you keep an apartment building pest-free is by not letting the pests move in in the first place. It’s no big deal: your stuff gets loaded on the van, the movers throw in a smoke bomb and then drive to your new apartment. By the time they get there, the bomb will have done its thing and you’re ready to move in.
The problem is that when poor, old people move they can’t afford moving vans. They get grandsons and neighbors and brothers-in-law with pickup trucks to move them in on evenings and weekends. Management is not on site to monitor the move-in, which continues piecemeal over a period of weeks.
A year after we got into this mess I made a suggestion that management immediately accepted: a week (or a month or whenever) after the tenant has moved in, send the pest man in to spray the apartment. Once they’ve gotten all their stuff in, spray.
The next problem in getting bedbugs is that poor people get stuff from thrift stores, pick things up along the curb, and otherwise acquire other people’s cast-offs, which may be infested. There is no practical way to deal with this except by putting the fear of God into tenants and getting them to apply peer pressure to one another. The tenants won’t tell management but they know who is curb-shopping. Also, if you know one person is routinely curb-shopping, you can stop that person but you can’t control 183 people, which is how many tenants live in my building.
So now bedbugs have been brought into the building. Bedbugs are not attracted by uncleanliness of your apartment or your person. They are not drawn by a paste of grease and sugar on your kitchen counter or your dirty laundry on the bedroom floor. Poor hygiene is not the problem—you are. Bedbugs are bloodsuckers that are attracted to your warm body.
Why do you think they’re called bedbugs? Bed is where you stay in one place for eight hours every night, so that’s where the bedbugs go to suck your blood. You wake up in the morning with little itchy red blotches on your arms and other body parts. That’s one good way to know that you’ve got bedbugs.
Another good way is to see them. They are about the size of a housefly’s wing. When they’ve recently sucked your blood, they’re fat and red. When they’re hungry, they’re flat and brown. They are so small that they can hide under the wall paper on the wall next to your bed. One good way to reduce the likelihood of getting bit is to keep your bed away from walls, shelves and other hiding places.
But the big hiding place is in your bed. Under the covers, inside the mattress, in your pillow—places like that. Wash your bed clothes every week. Get your bed sprayed, then encase the mattress in a plastic cover. If you’ve got bedbugs in your clothes closet, put your clothes through the dryer. You don’t have to wash them—just cook them. Heat kills bedbugs. (Setting fire to your apartment, however, would be an excessive response.)
So let’s say you now have bedbugs. What’s the first thing you should do?
RUN DOWNSTAIRS AND TELL THE MANAGER!
The first problem is that tenants won’t tell management that their apartment is infested. They’re embarrassed, ashamed, feel responsible, don’t know what to do, and are afraid of getting in trouble. The manager is frustrated. She can’t send in a kill-team if she doesn’t know where the invaders are hiding.
Tenants and management have to work together. When a new tenant signs a lease then s/he should be given a simple, clear written statement to tell the manager if you have signs of bedbugs, and that if you do then management will help you and there will not be any punishment or penalty. The notice should be permanently posted on bulletin boards. Tenants Associations should announce it at every meeting.
Once management knows an apartment is infested, they spray. Here at McCarthy Manor we have a good manager who keeps the pest guy on retainer. He comes in at least once a week and will spray anything and everything. The manager and the pest guy go so far above and beyond what’s required that they will go into an apartment and help move stuff, then the pest man goes out to the parking lot and sprays inside cars. (To be continued)