Bedbugs: shudder. No one likes to think about them too much–we’re getting the creepy-crawlies just writing about them–but if you’re a landlord or property manager and you don’t yet have a bedbug plan of action, it’s something you need to think about. The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there, and we’ve pulled together the information you need to keep bedbugs at bay for years to come–and to know just what you, your staff, and your tenants will need to do if bedbugs do show up in a rental unit.
1. Know your foe.
We hear it ever since we are children: “don’t let the bedbugs bite!” But very few kids–and very few adults, outside of the hotel industry–tend to know exactly what bedbugs are. What do they look like? Do they really bite? Do they really live in beds? And, crucially: how do we get rid of them?
To find out, we started with the King County Bed Bug Fact Sheet. It turns out bedbugs are quite small, “about the size of an apple seed,” and feed on our blood as ticks do. They have reddish bodies and do not fly, and they can live for up to a year without feeding (!). It turns out they “can hide anywhere but usually close to where people sleep,” and can be found primarily in bedding, around the edge of mattresses and box springs, and under buttons and tags attached to the mattress. Only the experts can confirm and effectively stem the tide of an infestation, but vacuuming, steaming, and cleansing with soap and water can help (DIY bug bombs, as it happens, aren’t effective).
2. Educate your tenants.
There are many ways to inform your tenants that bedbugs are a possibility to watch for, including this fun infographic from Bedbugs.org (click on the partial image for the full, very informative, version). If you’d like to be more proactive about it, the NARPM suggests holding town-hall style meetings to inform tenants of the dangers of bedbugs, since “bed bugs are one of those pests that ALWAYS require professional treatment,” and “tenant awareness and immediately reporting this pest – as any other pest – can significantly reduce the expense.” And expenses–that brings us to number 3.
3. Create a clear-cut Bed Bug Policy.
This one is another of the NARPM’s suggestions, and we couldn’t agree more. Before an infestation occurs, the following points need to be clear to both the landlord and the tenant: who pays for inspection? Who pays for treatment? And if there are recurring infestations, who pays for those? Since the cost of professional treatment & removal can hit $500 per room, it’s vital that these questions be decided beforehand.
This article from the American Apartment Owners Association caught our eye; it points out that while landlords must provide a “habitable” environment for tenants, it may not always be the landlord’s responsibility to pay for all bedbug inspections and treatments. Whatever you decide, it is important that the policy is clear-cut and specific, to avoid conflict during an infestation. This should include a policy on discarded furniture and mattresses–used, upholstered furniture is one of the big ways bedbugs can hitch a ride into units.
4. Train staff to find evidence of infestations.
If given the right information, a property manager or staff person may be able to detect the presence of bedbugs before a tenant can–or after a tenant has moved out. While only a professional can verify whether or not you have bedbugs, early detection is key to keeping removal costs down–so don’t be afraid to train your staff to look.
5. If you do find evidence of bedbugs, call in the professionals.
As we mentioned above, while certain cleaning methods–as well as encasing mattresses in bedbug-proof cases–can help with bedbug infestations, only qualified pest-control companies can verify bedbug infestations and completely & safely remove them from a unit. When you do hire a company, don’t forget to look for these qualifications before you call (from the infographic, again):
Finally, remember you’re not alone: there are a ton of great resources for bedbug prevention floating around the internet! If you’d like to do some further reading, check out this report from the National Center for Healthy Housing, entitled What’s Working for Bed Bug Control in Multifamily Housing: it’ll tell you what you need to know. In the meantime, happy Fall–and may your units always be bedbug-free!