How to Prevent and Control Bedbug Infestations
On February 28, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued Notice PIH-2012-17, which contained guidelines on bedbug control and prevention in public housing. This notice included the same guidelines as the ones in HUD Notice 2011-20, issued in August 2011. Although these notices are technically issued to public housing agencies that administer public housing and project-based Section 8 programs, and to owners and management agents of HUD-insured and assisted multifamily housing, it's likely that similar standards will be applied to properties financed through other affordable housing programs such as the low-income housing tax credit program.
HUD's primary focus with the notices seems to be to educate management in detection and treatment techniques. And as HUD states in the notices, bedbugs have become a “serious problem.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, bedbug populations have increased dramatically. And infestations have been reported in all 50 states, with major cities such as Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York getting most of the attention.
Unfortunately, there are no quick answers or easy solutions. Successful bedbug control requires preventive measures and quick responses by owners and managers, intensive pest control service, constant follow-up, and a high level of resident cooperation.
Also, getting rid of bedbug infestations is generally more expensive than getting rid of other pests. Pest control companies experienced in bedbug control charge up to $750 for the initial service of a single infested unit, and up to $300 for follow-ups. The costs quickly add up because a number of visits may be required to terminate an infestation.
With the help of experts, we'll offer suggestions on how to respond to complaints of a bedbug problem. Also, we'll give you a Model Notice and a Pre-Extermination Checklist that you can distribute to residents to maximize the effectiveness of any bedbug eradication efforts.
The Harvard School of Public Health defines bedbugs as “small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded animals.” Bedbugs are difficult to control because:
They feed mainly at night and hide during the day;
They can travel 20 feet or more to feed; and
They can live for months between feedings.
“Anywhere you can fit a business card, a bedbug can crawl through it,” says attorney Timothy Wenk, a partner with Shafer Glazer, LLP, and frequent bedbug liability lecturer. Usually, they are found in beds, mattresses, box springs, fabric-covered headboards, linens, and clothing.
The psychological toll of a bedbug infestation and the frequent bites they generate can affect the mental health of your residents. Bedbugs tend to feed at night, when many residents typically get optimal rest. And worrying about bedbugs can keep residents awake and anxious, which, over time, can raise serious public health concerns.
Best Practices in Bedbug Prevention, Extermination
Here are some important steps to take to prevent or eradicate bedbug infestations:
Encourage residents to report bedbugs. While the owner is responsible for treating an infested unit in a timely manner, the resident is responsible for informing the owner or manager of any pest problems and preparing the unit for treatment. In fact, taking steps to educate residents about bedbugs and encouraging them to report bedbugs as soon as they know of a problem will have the greatest effect on minimizing the cost and time it takes to eradicate bedbugs from your site.
Bedbugs increase rapidly because females lay eggs at a rate of three or four a day. “Unlike other pest problems that many landlords ignore or delay addressing, a bedbug problem explodes exponentially if it's not dealt with immediately,” says Jeff Eisenberg, CEO of Pest Away Inc. “Bedbugs can quickly spread from one unit to another, and they are one of the most difficult pests to get rid of,” he says. To assist your education efforts, we've provided a Model Notice to Residents: Bedbug Prevention and Control, which you can distribute to all your residents.
“Tenants may be reluctant to report bedbugs because they think an infestation is a sign they have poor hygiene,” Eisenberg says. “Therefore, tell tenants that a bedbug infestation is not a hygiene issue. Bedbugs can come from anywhere—other units, and even the residents' luggage if they stayed in an infested hotel room on a recent trip,” he adds.
Inspect adjacent units. Upon confirming the presence of bedbugs in a unit, you should notify residents and inspect all units adjacent to, above, and below the unit found to have bedbugs. Here's how to recognize the presence of bedbugs:
From their appearance: A newly hatched bedbug is semi-transparent, light tan in color, and the size of a poppy seed. Adult bedbugs are flat, have rusty-red-colored oval bodies, and are about the size of an apple seed.
Bedbugs can be easily confused with other small household insects, including carpet beetles, spider beetles, and newly hatched cockroaches (nymphs).
From their markings, droppings, and eggs: Blood stains, droppings, and eggs can be found in several locations, including mattress seams and tufts, sheets, pillow cases, upholstered furniture, crevices and cracks in furniture, and the baseboards of walls.
When inspecting for bedbugs and tell-tale blood stains, droppings, and eggs, a flashlight and a magnifying glass will help. Start by looking in an area 10 to 20 feet around where the residents sleep or sit. That's the distance a bedbug will usually travel. And keep a written record of every room and location where you find signs of bedbugs. Share this record with a pest control professional.
From their bite: Some people don't react to bedbug bites. But for those who do, bite marks may appear within minutes or days, usually where skin is exposed during sleep. They can be small bumps or large itchy welts. The welts usually go away after a few days. Because the bites may resemble mosquito and other insect bites, a bump or welt alone doesn't mean there are bedbugs.
Once the presence of bedbugs has been confirmed, to maximize the effectiveness of subsequent treatment, send a checklist to your affected residents to help them organize and to remind them of the things they must do before the exterminator comes. You can adapt and use our Model Checklist: Give Affected Residents a Pre-Extermination Bedbug Checklist, for this purpose.
Hire a pest management professional. Bedbug infestations usually require the use of pesticides. And only professionals should apply pesticides for bedbugs. In fact, never use bug bombs or insecticide foggers against bedbugs, warns Eisenberg. Foggers and bug bombs are not effective against them and drive them deeper into cracks and other areas of the unit.
Not all exterminators are trained in managing bedbugs. To get rid of bedbugs, you must choose the right company. Find a company through dependable referrals, directories, and professional associations.
When evaluating a pest control company, check the following:
Better Business Bureau rating;
Record at government agencies that track complaints against pest control companies or the products they use; and
Client list. Call clients and verify that the pest control company has experience with bedbugs in multifamily dwellings, such as apartments or hotels.
You should expect at least two treatment visits and a third follow-up visit to confirm that the bedbugs have been eliminated. Severe infestations or cluttered units may take more visits to eliminate the bedbugs.
Assist residents who can't move furniture themselves. In the case of elderly or disabled residents who are unable to move furniture around, you should help them organize the unit and get rid of clutter. Any delays or unprepped units will diminish the effectiveness of professional bedbug treatments and prolong the presence of bedbugs in the building.
Here are some things that residents can do to support the work of a professional:
Get rid of clutter to reduce places bedbugs can hide.
Wipe off dead bugs, blood stains, eggs, and droppings with hot soapy water.
Wash all items showing bedbug stains in hot water (140 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry on the highest setting for at least 20 minutes. Other clean items suspected of having bedbugs should be placed in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes to kill the bugs. After drying, store items in sealed plastic bags until the bedbugs are completely eradicated.
Vacuum carpets, floors, bed frames, furniture, cracks, and crevices daily, using a brush tool. Empty the vacuum or seal and dispose of its bag after each use.
Enclose infested mattresses and box springs in a cover that's labeled “allergen rated,” “for dust mites,” or “for bedbugs” for at least a full year. Periodically check for rips or openings and tape these up.
Use plastic sheeting (shrink/pallet wrap) to cover, or place securely in plastic bags, any items to be thrown away. Label with a sign that says “infested with bedbugs.”
Jeff Eisenberg: CEO, Pest Away Inc, 261 W. 35 St. #300, New York, NY; www.pestawayinc.com.
Timothy Wenk, Esq.: Partner, Shafer Glazer, LLP, 90 John St., Ste. 701, New York, NY 10038; www.shaferglazer.com.