5 Steps Landlords Should Do to Treat Bed Bugs in Apartments

What should a co-op or condo association do when a resident is suspecting bed bugs infestations?

Landlord Condo

A recent article in the online Habitat magazine details the response of a self-managed co-op in New York City after a resident came to the board with concerns about bed bugs. The co-op board realized that under new city guidelines, the co-op would be in violation if it didn’t respond. If the board did nothing, and residents called the city to complain, the co-op could be fined.

Who’s Responsible?

If an inspector from the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) visits a co-op where a complaint has been made, and the inspector does find bed bug infestations, the inspector will issue a notice of violation requiring the co-op to take the following steps:

1. Hire a professional bed bug exterminator to inspect not only the infected unit but also the units on either side and the units directly above and below. (The HPD requires the pest control specialist to use multiple treatment and prevention strategies—not just pesticides.)

2. Notify all residents that bed bugs have been found in the building if multiple units have bed bug infestations.

3. Formulate a pest management plan if bed bug infestations are in more than one unit, and distribute the plan to all residents of the building. The board members knew that if they didn’t follow these guidelines, they could be forced to appear at a hearing before the city’s Environmental Control Board, which could levy fines against the co-op or even place a lien on the building.


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Lessons Learned

The board decided that it’s better to be safe than sorry and chose to treat all the units in the building. First, the board tried to politely ask permission of residents to let pest control specialists inspect and treat their units with preventative spray. But the board got no response, according to the co-op board’s president.

So the board sent out another email—this time informing residents in no uncertain terms that exterminators and the super would be entering every unit for inspection and spraying. In hindsight, the board president wishes the board had been more forceful from the outset.

Another lesson the president recounts is the need for common sense and flexibility. One of the residents was pregnant and was worried about the effects of the pesticides on her unborn child. Rather than create a conflict, the board agreed to non-chemical but strict preventative measures.

After the entire process, the co-op board not surprisingly reached the conclusion that it would be a good idea to develop an ongoing program to educate residents about bed bug infestations and how to prevent them!


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 What to Do

Owners and managers of apartment buildings are all-too-familiar with the threat of bed bugs. With the resurgence of bed bugs in recent years, there’s a lot of pressure to keep apartments free of bed bugs—or else face the loss of tenants and forfeited rent payments, and possibly even lawsuits.

The following treatment for bed bugs in apartments will help you keep your apartment bed bug free:

#1. Treat the Entire Building

Approach bed bug treatment as a problem for the entire building and/or complex, not just a problem for those units that report infestation. Treating unit-by-unit will almost invariably fail as bed begs spread between units. If a unit is infested, adjacent units should also be inspected and treated if necessary.

#2. Train Yourself and Your Staff

Pest control companies will need to be used, but apartment managers need to learn about bed bugs so that they can wisely hire a pest control company, educate tenants about how to prevent bed bugs, and constantly be on the lookout for potential causes of infestation.

Hold community meetings, distribute literature about bed bug prevention, put up signs near dumpsters and trash cans warning tenants not to put bed-bug-infested items into the trash, and develop a bed bug action plan (e.g., how to prepare a unit for a bed bug treatment from professionals).

#3. Don’t Require Tenants to Pay for Treatment

Many owners and managers have tried to pass on the costs of bed bug treatment to the tenants—resulting in tenants who don’t report the problem, a situation that leads to greater infestation as bed bugs spread to other units. The apartment complex will be much better off—from the owners’ and the tenants’ perspectives—if renters are quick to call attention to signs of bed bugs.

#4. Provisions for Tenants

In your leases, include provisions that require tenants to report bed bugs and to cooperate with bed bug treatment, even if their apartment isn’t infested but is next door to a unit that is.

#5. Hire Pest Control Specialists

Hire only pest control specialists with a documented history of controlling bed bugs and that use bed bug sniffing dogs, which are often necessary to pinpoint infestations. And if the pest control company doesn’t seem interested in helping you develop action plans and educate the tenants, then it isn’t the right company.***

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