There is a common childhood saying, “don’t let the bedbugs bite” and by the 1940’s bedbugs had pretty much been eradicated in the United States. Therefore, it is surprising that bedbugs returned a few years ago and have become a tricky problem for the property management industry when they occur.
Why did bedbugs return?
The main reasons are increased global travel, increased mobility in general, as well as changes in pesticide use, particularly the ban on the pesticide DDT. All this has allowed them to flourish when introduced.
What are bedbugs?
Bedbugs are reddish brown, flattened, oval, and wingless pests. They are extremely hardy and feed on warm-blooded animals. Some experts feel that they can survive without feeding for nearly a year, which makes it even more difficult to treat them.
What is the big problem with bed bugs?
Bed bugs do not feed on waste, but on the blood of a host. This is the primary reason bed bugs are so adaptable to transference. The size of the bed bug also makes it difficult to detect. Most sources indicate bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed and generally feed at dawn. They extract food through the blood of their host leaving behind welts and bumps. Those affected by the bites may not even be aware of the issue until long after the bedbug has resumed its hiding place in some of the smallest places in the home. They can cause skin rashes, allergic reactions, and psychological effects.
What makes them different from other pests?
Filth does not attract bed bugs. They are insects of convenience like lice and fleas. These tiny insects crawl from one infected individual to another. They set up house near beds and in bedrooms, hiding in cracks and crevices during the day and creeping out at night to feed on the blood of their unsuspecting prey – humans. The size of an apple seed, bed bugs multiply quickly and are adept hitchhikers. You can get bed bugs by sitting in a seat just vacated by an infected person on a subway, park bench, taxi, or airplane. Since not all people react to bed bug bites, people often spread bed bugs without even knowing they have them.
What makes treating them so difficult?
Since the banning of DDT, pest control professionals have not had many effective chemicals to kill bedbugs. In addition, they only feed only on blood and so baits or traps do not attract them. That makes finding and destroying the tiny bugs and their eggs meticulous, time-consuming work that typically requires a series of repeat visits.
What federal agencies are addressing bed bugs?
The EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, has held two “Bed Bug Summits” in Washington, DC. One was held in April 2009 and the second in February 2011. During the recent summit, they introduced three initiatives:
- Educating consumers on the importance of early recognition of bed bug infestations
- Educating industry professionals to prevent treatment resistance
- Progressing in the research and development of effective bed bug pesticides
On day two of the summit, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revealed plans to promote a bed bug community outreach service that will focus on increasing awareness and educating everyone. You know that if the EPA and HUD are involved that this is a serious problem.
What is the liability for an investor?
Because bed bugs can reside in any property, it can become a legal hassle between property owner and tenant, with finger pointing both ways. However, like any serious pest control issue, landlords can face damages for bedbugs under a claim of breach of the warranty of liability. Tenants are legally entitled to a “livable, safe, and sanitary” residence. Because it is hard to determine how bedbugs entered the property, it is difficult to say the tenant “caused the problem.” This has caused many lawsuits against the investor and sometimes the management company.
You may or may not have experienced bedbugs in your management portfolio. What is important is important to recognize this IS a very serious issue and that it can happen. Here are steps that you can take.
- Do your homework and learn as much as you can. Log onto the Internet and do a search on bedbugs and rental property. Visit this Bed Bug Information page where you will find a wealth of information provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Look for qualified pest control vendors. Not all pest control companies know how to eradicate these difficult pests. The company you normally use may not have the knowledge or tools to handle the problem. Check out companies before you have an infestation.
- Update your rental/lease agreements. Check your rental agreement to see if it contains language that gives you the necessary tools to handle an outbreak of bed bugs efficiently. Many leases contain language that specifies what the resident’s responsibility is in terms of pest control treatment. For example, the lease may state that the resident agrees to comply with any pest control requirements such as moving or discarding personal property inside the unit or vacating the premises if necessary. Talk to your attorney about this issue and your rental agreement.
- Educate your property owners. This can be a big shock so if possible, let them know that it is happening around the country and has become a big liability. You can do this by sending out a letter or email or put it into a landlord newsletter if you have one (We have an article entitled The Return of Bedbugs available for purchase).
- Educate your tenants. Do not wait until there is a problem to start educating your tenants. You can do this by wording in your lease, adding it to your Tenant Handbook/Manual, sending out a newsletter, putting information on your website in your tenant section. It is always better to prepare them in advance.
Bedbugs are a serious issue. What is important is to minimize the impact by planning and taking the necessary steps to tackle a bedbug problem immediately when it happens.
Jean Storms, MPM® is the founder/author of LandlordSource and has been a NARPM® member since January 1993.
Disclaimer: LandlordSource does not represent the article content in this website as legal advice. It is shared information only and up to the reader to use this information responsibly, seeking legal advice as necessary to their business.
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