How to Prevent and Control Bedbug Infestations
In the past few years, we have seen an incredible rise in bedbug infestations in New York City. While reports of infestations might have ticked down this past winter, experts say that bedbugs will be present in record numbers in a few months, says Jeffrey White, a research entomologist for Bedbugcentral.com. This is because bedbugs peak in the heat of summer. In the winter, they typically slow down and hibernate.
“If we combine the seasonal trends, with the bugs getting more and more embedded in our community, that allows the bugs to make that resurgence all the more stronger,” says White.
Adding to the resurgence problem is how difficult bedbugs are to get rid of because of their hiding skills and the long amount of time they can go without feeding. For owners, it can cost a great deal of money to get rid of them—and even then, there's no guarantee they won't return. In this issue, we'll go over recent actions taken by the city and the latest bedbug decisions issued by the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), and provide tips to help you maximize your chances of preventing a bedbug infestation from occurring in your building.
RECENT LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Given the severity of the bedbug issue, New York City has taken action. Last year, the city's Bed Bug Advisory Board released a report that recommended increasing public education on how to detect and eliminate the pests, for which the city has re-appropriated $500,000 in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's budget to fund the education and outreach effort.
Other report recommendations included launching and maintaining an online bedbug portal devoted to bedbug facts and resources, similar to the city's rat portal; assembling a bedbug team to coordinate the city's bedbug efforts through the Department of Health; and requiring building owners to provide written bedbug information to tenants upon lease signing and renewal, to name a few.
The city has followed the recommendations. The one recommendation that pertains most to building owners is a bill former New York Governor David Paterson signed that requires owners to inform incoming tenants of the property's bedbug infestation history for the previous year regarding the apartment rented by the tenant and the building in which the apartment is located. The DHCR has issued the form DBB-N (9/10), Notice to Tenant: Disclosure of Bedbug Infestation History, which provides notice to each tenant signing a vacancy lease. A copy of the form is linked.
At the state level, legislative action has been taken as well. In the last year, state legislators have established a tax credit of 15 percent, not to exceed $750, for personal property replacement as a result of a bedbug infestation [New York S1286-2011]. The justification was that bedbug infestations are not covered by most types of renter's insurance, and this law will be able to assist affected New Yorkers. Also, legislators have introduced a bill to require insurers that underwrite property and casualty policies in the state to cover costs associated with bedbug infestations [New York A11701].
PREVENTION AND CONTROL TIPS
In New York City, building owners are required by law to provide apartments free of pests. The presence of bedbugs is listed as a Class B violation, which gives the owner 30 days to get rid of the parasites. An owner's failure to fix this problem in a timely manner may constitute a breach of the “implied warranty of habitability,” the owner's minimum obligation to provide a livable residence. In the section of this issue "Landlord v. Tenant: Latest Bedbug Rulings," you will find some decisions that have resulted in rent abatements for the tenant due to a breach of the warranty of habitability.
Encourage Tenants to Report Bedbugs
While the owners are responsible for treating an infested apartment in a timely manner, the resident is responsible for informing the owner or manager of any pest problems and preparing the apartment for treatment. In fact, taking steps to educate tenants about bedbugs and encouraging your tenants 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 building. Bedbugs increase rapidly because females lay eggs at a rate of three or four a day. Also, if you don't act quickly, bedbugs can spread from one apartment to another. To assist your education efforts, we have provided a Notice to Tenants: Bedbug Prevention and Control, which you can distribute to your tenants.
Inspect Adjacent Apartments
Upon confirming the presence of bedbugs in an apartment, you should notify tenants and inspect all apartments adjacent to, above, and below the apartment found to have bedbugs. Here's how to recognize the presence of bedbugs:
From their appearance: Bedbugs are small insects that feed mainly on human blood. 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 tenants 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.
Hire a Pest Management Professional
Bedbug infestations usually require the use of pesticides. And only professionals should apply pesticides for bedbugs. Foggers and bug bombs are not effective against them.
There are many pest control companies and licensed pest professionals in the New York City area. Not all are well 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—and check to make sure the company or professional is licensed at www.dec.ny.gov.
You should expect at least two treatment visits and a third follow-up visit to confirm that bedbugs have been eliminated. Severe infestations or cluttered apartments may take more visits to eliminate the bedbugs.
Assist Tenants Who Cannot Move Furniture Themselves
In the case of elderly or disabled tenants who are unable to move furniture around, you should help them organize the apartment and get rid of clutter. Any delays or unprepped apartments will diminish the effectiveness of professional bedbug treatments and prolong the presence of bedbugs in your building.
Here are some things that tenants 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 is 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.”