Getting rid of bedbugs takes two things: a good pest man spraying, and a good tenant cleaning up the clutter. The spraying doesn’t do much good if the bedbugs have ten zillion places to hide.
I moved from one apartment to another in the same building. The pest guy sprayed my new apartment after the old tenant moved out. Then he sprayed it again while the maintenance staff was rehabbing the apartment. Then he sprayed it again the day before I moved it. Man, it is a clean apartment! But picture it in your mind: a totally bare empty apartment. Under those circumstances, the pest guy can be really, really effective.
The more stuff you keep in your apartment, the more hiding places there are for bedbugs and the less effective the spraying is. The cure for this is for the tenant to clean up the mess in the apartment. Some tenants refuse to do it. There was this guy who was yelling his head off at Tenants Association meetings, saying that he’d had bedbugs for two years and management wasn’t doing anything about.
What management said was that they’d been spraying on a regular basis, and giving the tenant written directions every month about cleaning up. He couldn’t be bothered. So I woke up one morning thinking, “Evict his ass!” He’s putting the entire neighborhood of 175 households at risk by his careless behavior. I went down to the manager and proposed that she kick out anybody who had a chronic problem because they weren’t cleaning up.
She replied that three months ago she had started filing lease violations against tenants who wouldn’t clean up. An empty apartment is a clean apartment. If we have to get rid of you in order to get rid of your bedbugs, so be it. But it took a few months to learn that had to be done.
Another thing that management didn’t figure out right off was that they need to inspect all the apartments. Tenants are failing to self-report, therefore, when management has reports of infestations in—what? five percent of the apartments? two percent?—they should order a top-to-bottom professional inspection of all apartments. Don’t leave it to the tenants; take over and find out for yourself. And repeat the full-scale professional inspections on a regular basis as long as you have a certain percentage of infested apartments.
The Dept. of Health does not consider bedbugs to be a problem. WHA-A-A-T?? Seriously. Their position is that bedbugs, unlike rats, mice and cockroaches, do not carry disease, therefore they’re not a public health problem. Crazy, isn’t it? Bedbugs may chew you to pieces until you require psychiatric incarceration, but they’re not considered a public health problem. They should be. Go kick some butt at your local city hall and get them to change their policy and start dealing with the problem.
Another bedbug problem is re-infestation. One tenant who had bedbugs gathered up all her infested bedding and winter clothes, put them in plastic bags and put the bags in her car to take them to the dry cleaner and/or laundromat. Problem was, she couldn’t afford to get everything cleaned, so she just drove her bedbugs around the city for months. Her apartment would get sprayed, then she’d go out to her car and bring some more bedbugs back in, and she’d still be infested and complaining about the management.
Most tenants who are elderly and poor are receiving services from agencies. They have home health aides, social workers and case managers who can be put to work to identify physical and fiscal resources to get the cleanup done, but some aging people actually are competent to handle their own affairs without professional assistance—until they run into bedbugs, then they have an acute problem that they aren’t equipped to deal with.
The first problem is that a person doesn’t want to declare herself poor and unable to cope. That’s what friends are for: you tell your friend that you’ve got a problem, then you work on it together. Then you meet with the manager and get creative about solutions. In this case, the tenant realized that the first-floor bathroom was out of order and locked, so—at her suggestion—all her stuff was moved from her car into the bathroom. The pest guy sprayed her car and her stuff in the bathroom, and order was restored.
There are some agencies that you can reach out to for help—the Office of Aging, Dept. of Social Services, and Health Department, for example. If they can’t help you, they can refer you to other local agencies that might—Catholic Charities or Salvation Army, for example. Some agencies will provide plastic covers to encase mattresses and pillows.
Yesterday a man got on the elevator carrying a stack of chairs. He said he was moving his sister out because she had bedbugs and management wouldn’t do anything about it. Being a good reporter and wanting to get both sides of the story, I went down to the manager and asked.
She said the tenant brought the bedbugs in on a used keyboard. Management and the pest guy repeatedly sprayed and inspected. After the initial infestation was cleared, there were no more bedbugs in the apartment.
The tenant was going out every day to a day care program and coming home with her arms all bit up. Just because tenants say it’s a management problem doesn’t mean it’s a management problem.
The bedbug problem only can be cleared up by management and tenants working together—and HUD developing a rational bedbug policy and passing it out to all apartment building managers.
Learn from the people who’ve had the problem!