Where does it say…? 6 essential documents to survive an argument about bed bug dispersal

[At-large Jersey City Councilwoman Willie] Flood said she disagreed with the ordinance “unless it is scientific. None of us should be voting on this.”

The Jersey Journal, September 26, 2008

I’m not sure, what do you think? It seems to me that the Councilwoman is politely saying, where does it say? Where does it say that bed bugs will spread?

Show me.

Whether it’s your super or your landlord or your local council member and whether the subject is pesticide resistance or the need to inspect adjacent apartments or the fact that, yes, your bed bugs could be coming in through the bathroom, we think having a well-researched set of responses will help. (However, if you find yourself having to tell your own pest control guy what’s what, you have our sympathy and this may not be of help. Nothing may be of help. Except a new pest control guy.)

On the spread of bed bugs to adjacent apartments and floors

1. Public Health Significance of Urban Pests, World Health Organization, p. 141:

Large multi-unit buildings common to poor areas can be very hard to rid of bedbugs. Once bedbugs become established, any control effort that does not include checking the whole building at nearly the same time, along with a coordinated occupant education and treatment effort (as needed), will usually fail, because the bugs will frequently move away from any partially treated and potentially repellent active sites into adjacent rooms. Their movements are generally unencumbered, because they readily move through wall voids and along utility lines, heating ducts, elevator shafts, and laundry and mail chutes.

2. A Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia, Stephen L. Doggett, Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research and Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association, p. 23:

In any infestation, adjoining rooms and spaces, both either side and above and below, should be inspected.

3. Richard Cooper, entomologist:

Bed bugs will readily move between units in multi-occupancy settings such as hotels, apartments, hospitals, dormitories etc. As a result, bed bug management efforts in multi-occupancy structures should that are limited to the infested unit only are often prone to failure. Often property or facility managers are reluctant to expand the bed bug management effort to other units whose occupants have not yet complained about bed bugs. By notifying other occupants of the facility there is the risk of creating alarm and panic among residents not to mention the damage that could be caused to the reputation of the facility. Notifying occupants of surrounding units is a sensitive and sometimes difficult proposition however; the reality is that failure to do so end up being very costly in the long run.

4. Guidelines for the Control and Prevention of Bed Bug Infestations in California (PDF), California Department of Public Health, p. 3:

Building owners and operators should:

[...]

6. Notify tenants adjacent (next door, above, and below the infestation) to bed bug infested properties. Such notification should specify the presence of bed bugs in adjacent properties, and the need to prepare their properties for inspection and treatment, if necessary, for bed bugs.

7. Instruct the PCO to inspect all rooms and properties adjacent to bed bug infested rooms and properties, including rooms and properties where tenants were relocated.

5. City of Boston Inspectional Services Department, Housing Division, Bed Bugs:

Our Standard bed bug notice of violation also requires that owners inspect all units in the dwelling, and they must treat all horizontally and vertically adjacent units to the infested unit(s).

6. And of course, our own interview with Clive Boase:

Regarding spread of bedbugs within buildings, I now regard this as the norm. An isolated complaint of bedbug infestation from a unit (i.e., apartment, or hotel room) within a building will often turn out be part of a cluster of infested units within that building. We would now say that when inspecting/investigating a complaint of bedbug infestation, that several units to the left and right of the complainant should automatically be inspected, if access is possible.

The dispersion routes seem to vary from building to building, depending on construction. For example, we see some evidence of dispersion from one floor to another mainly in older buildings, where the barrier between floors is not so good. In buildings constructed in recent decades, then the fire-barrier between floors appears good at preventing vertical bedbug movement. However, lateral/horizontal movement between rooms is common, especially where plumbing or other services run from room to room.

Memorably, Clive Boase also observed, in an article in Biologist (PDF) in 2004:

Local dispersion of infestations can occur through the active movement of individual bugs. In one housing block, infestations spread from room to adjoining room at a rate of about one room per seven weeks, with dispersion taking place primarily along plumbing runs.

And then there’s simply what pest control companies do in order to be effective in treating a bed bug infestation. There’s evidence that they not only inspect but also treat adjoining rooms and apartments as a matter of course. In a recent Pest Management Professional series on bed bug management, Bed Bugs: What’s Really Working, the following quotes were especially resonant (from part 2):

“We need 100-percent cooperation of building management,” affirms Scott McNeely of McNeely Pest Control, Winston-Salem, N.C. “When an apartment unit has bed bugs, we always inspect and treat all of the surrounding units. That takes good communication, with and full cooperation of, building management.”

“We’re concerned about all the reports we read regarding product efficacy and bed bug resistance,” adds Stephen Gates, director of technical services at Cook’s Pest Control in Decatur, Ala. “Because of this, we make sure we treat surrounding units of multi-family housing and hotel accounts before we treat the infested units. We don’t want to chase bed bugs from infested units into untreated ones.”

Okay, that was more like eight.

13 comments

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  3. Sam Bryks

    when we get down to the nitty-gritty of what is best to do when, it always will come down to time and costs and what works and what doesn’t .

    Almost all of the recommendations noted are sensible, except perhaps the suggestion to treat all adajcent units, which may be unnecessary and very likely IS unnecessary.
    i had a case some years ago in which a tenant rep insisted that ALL the units in a large apartment be treated and that this was the only way to get control. I refused to do that.. it made no sense… Instead, we inspected all units in the building and found that the vast majority did not have any indication of infestation. The use of detection dogs was not an option at he time. The need for inspecting all adjacent units will depend on structure and on degree of infestation in the known infested unit. the most likely adjacent units to be infested would be on either side of the unit. If a unit is heavily infested and the structure is not concrete or block walls between units, but partition walls of drywall, then spread in all four parameters is very likely, but if the structure is solid and penetrations are well sealed, spread is much more difficult. Studies have shown that the risk of adjacent infestation is about 30% in directly adjacent units and less in those above and below, but common sesne also suggests that in a heavy infestation the risk is higher.
    in consideration of these variables, perhaps the best approach is to inspect adjacent units on the same floor, and notify other tenants on all three floors of potential risk. Then to continue the inspections as rolling” inspections” based on findings of more infestations.
    This is a classic IPM Decision Rule approach… i.e. inspect adjacents on same floor and extend inspections when new infestation is found to new adjacents. If the problem seems more widespread, the consider using a detection dog service as this is much more reliable and cost effective than people inspections of many units.
    this way you maximize effectiveness and do not increase use of pesticides and disruption of tenants needlessly…
    This takes thought and planning and keeping good records..
    Sam

  4. Renee Corea

    With bed bugs, however, there may be infested apartments across the hall, and you will not find those infested apartments if you just inspect adjacent apartments. Nonetheless, inspecting adjacent apartments should be the minimum inspection routine.

    I’m all for notifying tenants of infestations in the building. This notification, accompanied by suitable educational and access to more in-depth materials if desired, would go a long way.

  5. Sam Bryks

    The spread of bed bugs is of course of great concern, but we need to look at this in realistic terms or a lot of work and energy is expended without much benefit..

    the issue of across the hall infesation takes careful examination in relation to risk. This is a recommended practice in the hospitality industry because of the fact that sheets are sometimes put in the hallways and in this manner infestation can get “across the hall”, but i have never read or seen that this happens in apartments except when infested bedding is dragged in a hallway or left there without any protection… in that case, the infestation could spread to ANY unit… but as a practical cost effective approach i recommend adjacent units not across the hall… at least till i hear something to indicate that bed bugs will routinely go under the front door and traverse the hallways… not likely in my view.. just not the way secretivce insects usually behave..

    i once had a case of a real panic about bed bugs spreading between units from travelling under the edge of carpets in hallways.. had a report of carpet installers who thought they saw the bed bugs when the carpets were removed. i sent one of my staff to inspect evrery floor when this happened and they did not find even ONE bed bug in the hallway.. not that it cojuldn’t happen in extreme caess, but in this site there was plenty of infestation in units and nothing in hallways… just does not seem in the nature of these critters to leave in that manner from a bedroom or a living room and go out under teh front door…

    the data for adjacency was reproted in a conference in washington by one of the large firms … and i did my own analysis of two building reviewing adjacent infestation in units over a period of one year…… found about 30% in directly adjacent units on same floor i.e. that 30% of the time adjacent units were infested on both sides of an infested unit…
    the other finding was that in adjacent units above or below or on an angle – that is those units directly above or below the adjacent units on the same floor .. were infested about 22% of the time..
    this means that 70 to 78% of the time adjacent units do not appear to bre infested by basic visual inspection…

    if resources enable inspection of the entire block of unit about an infected unit.. that is a total of 8 units, that is great, but it may be that inspection of adjacent units and a rolling inspection based on finding more infestation combined with notifying tenants may be a more cost=effective strategy, but in IPM the decision rule is not fixed, but varies as we learn what is effective and what is not.. i am just suggesting that this may be cost effective…

  6. Sam Bryks

    correction
    when i say units are infested adjacent to a known infested unit on both sides,, i meant that the risk in each adjacent unit to be infested is 30 %
    not that the risk of both being infested is 30%…

  7. Maureen

    I live in Staten Island and in a co-op apartment. I am a disabled senior who is ill a lot of the time. My building has been in financial trouble for quite a while now and we have been surrounded by scaffolding (the first contractors for two years left more damage behind than they fixed).

    On top of that assessments on top of my medical expenses have left me bankrupt. We have a new board now desperate to finally do crucial repairs and workmen in and out (I had to go to court to finally after 9 years) get them to fix the roof over my head).

    I have nowhere to go or I would sell (in this market my credit card creditors would take everything) and put in for senior housing (normally a five year wait.)

    So I’m pretty irritable over what I’ve seen over the 12 years I’ve lived here. And now we all know there are bedbugs in the building. We’ve all known it for 2 years now. I figure I don’t have them because I haven’t been bitten or seen anything on any of my bedding but the group home apartment down the hall had bedbugs.

    I don’t have a real problem with the new board but the management company and the president of the board are really arrogant and I am sick of them just showing up at the door with no notice – can the engineers take the measurements of the windows again (they’re finally replacing our defective windows in January and February if that makes sense.), look at the ceiling again, etc.

    But now I get a letter that says all residents of the building have to sign up for a mandatory inspection in January or February (January is pretty much gone) on “the second Tuesday of the Month” or the “Fourth Saturday of the month” “there is a sign up sheet in the super office” and if we don’t do it the management company (which we caught stealing over the last two years) will fine us $150 and $10 extra for every week we don’t comply.

    First of all, I have no idea of what type of inspection this is. Is it a dog? I have privacy issues here – not wanting an inspector or a dog to be rifling through my bedding, my closets (my housekeeping is pretty dismal but the stuff is clean).

    Second if there is not an inspection that inspects all the apartments at one time is this really effective?

    Third are they within their legal rights to impose such fines?

    Fourth – I didn’t open the letter for about two weeks because we are always getting trivial mail from the board (i.e. welcome our new super – come to our Christmas – New Year’s party) so I don’t think some of the residents even are aware of this.

    I’ve been living out of boxes lately as I am so broke and there is so much work being done all around me that I just don’t bother putting things back. I always think I may have to just abandon my home and move somewhere – anywhere – so I’ve been clearing out closets and packing up stuff to sell at an apartment clearance.

    I’m just up to here living in an apartment I bought in 1996 in my home neighborhood with the expectations that, if I paid my maintenance and bills on time I would be able to afford and live without the headache of maintaining grounds and outside structure.

    Instead I’ve had my maintenance double, $5,000 in assessments over the last four years, leaks in my roof and walls, watched while board members flipped apartments driving up our taxes (the assessed value of the apartments tripled and Bloomberg is getting his pound of flesh), while frippery such as new hand cut rugs, paint for halls, external non essential crap was foisted on us to attract a new breed of arrogant elitist residents who want everything perfect. (Unfortunately the building is old and structural repairs were not done – at one point the wall of the utility room chimney was broken through and a nest of mice and roaches invaded all the surrounding apartments – mine was one – and it took almost two years to clear.)

    So new tenants who bought at top dollar and have insane mortgages are ballistic and us older tenants who just want to live in peace and quiet are caught between warring factions and finding ourselves unable to meet the bills either,.

    I just keep to myself and hope somehow things will change and my children will keep their jobs (they’re not.)

    In the meantime I’d like to know what my rights are. Do I have to have a person or dog come in and sniff all around my stuff or pay a fine? If I do this how effective is this really going to be in the long run anyway?

    I’m actually embarrassed for anyone to see my mattress. I know it sounds stupid but I am. I bought it new four years ago but it must have been one of the re-contracted mattresses and it sort of collapsed so I have a pillow stuffed under between the box spring and mattress. I’m poor and my stuff is all old and worn. I’ve been very depressed these days not able to do the things I used to – and I just don’t want people on top of me all the time.

    And I just don’t like the tone of the letter.

    Any ideas?

  8. Renee Corea

    Hi Maureen,

    You have an obligation under the law to provide access. The nature and method of the inspection is presumably something you can negotiate with the property manager. You should consult a lawyer about the legal issues surrounding fines for not providing access.

    I will say that it is in your best interest — and the best interest of the building as a whole — to find the full extent of the bed bug infestation. This is critical for eradication. The expenses and various stressors associated with a bed bug infestation are not something you want to add to your finances and your quality of life.

    Good luck to you.

  9. Maureen

    First of all, all of us tenants know there are bedbugs in our building. The apartment down the hall is a group apartment run by the Department of Mental Health NYS and they brought in a dog which I gather the state paid for.

    And we’ve known there were bedbugs in the building for 2 years now as a tenant left a mattress infested with bedbugs right out in alcove where we all had to pass and there was a tremendous furor. So this has been going on for quite a while.

    But we’ve already had the management company with the collision of the old board waste tons of money on cheap cosmetic fixes that have driven our maintenance through the roof and the building in chaos.

    I have friends who do extermination (not licensed for bedbug but have taken the courses.) None of us were told what type of inspection this is going to be – but my exterminator friends have told me that if you don’t bring the dog in you can only spot large infestations and that is completely personally invasive as well as not necessarily effective.

    So we just get a threatening letter telling us that we have to open our apartments in the next month on certain days to a non-described inspection or pay a huge fine.

    I have no money (and I certainly hope I don’t have any bedbugs) but I am furious over the tone of the letters and sick to death of my fellow co-op owners acting like sheep whenever we are told just to do this or that or we have to pay a fine. Who’s going to get the fine money? This whole thing stinks.

    As for hiring a lawyer you’re forgetting that some of us are really poor and don’t have the money. I am just so sick of irresponsible people not explaining stuff to us telling us we have abide by this dictum or that one. It’s part of the American disease in this country – people throwing their weight around and not considering the feelings of the people who don’t have money to fight back.

    How about just asking us first for voluntary inspections before just laying down the law? How about some sympathy for any of us who may have gotten a bedbug because of other tenants or just because they happened to bring it home from some thrift store? It feels like Gestapo tactics and I resent the whole thing.

    If they’re going to bring in a dog (which knowing how they do everything on the cheap and never effectively doesn’t sound likely) people should be told a dog is coming (actually I have no problem with a dog), There are people who are terrified of dogs and some who have cats. If we’re to have some strange guy coming over and rifling through all our closets, couches etc. then we should be told who these people are before being told to just comply with instructions or pay fines none of us can afford. As far as I have heard, bedbugs are NOT a health problem and do not spread disease so they do not fall under laws that demand access on that basis.

    And, if we are having a dog which is the really effective way to go, we need to have a dog handler and obviously this is very expensive so shouldn’t we the apartment owners been notified of the expense and the method chosen. My fellow co-op owners are just walking around in a daze. I think they all think it’s just going to be the 1,2.3 visit of the regular exteminator (I’m sick of trying to tell them this stuff can get complicated – like when our reserve account slowly disappeared over the last five years) and I see hell to pay when whatever kind of inspections start to take place.

    Even a friend of mine who Spartan apartment (there are dust balls though) got nervous “If they bring in a dog how accurate is the dog?” I don’t think he has bedbugs but we’e already been told how much we will have to pay to exterminate the apartments and he’s been sick and broke. I don’t think he has anything to worry about but I see why he’s upset. He’s got no stuff not like a lot of us who have tons of clutter. Any male inspector is just going to get through his limited wardrobe and sheetless bed in a flash. Us females don’t feel all that comfortable about all this.

    Of course no one wants bedbugs (the idea makes me itch) and they can spread but it’s been two years with residents who the mangement company knew had infestations. Where were they then? We got rid of most of the old board but we still have a president who is pally with the same management company who we caught ripping off money. Both have an IQ of about 80 (combined) and a sensitivity IQ of about 10. This is my neighborhood and I don’t want to leave. But what I see is that living in a co-op is just one big nightmare and co-op owners don’t have much rights. I just want to be left alone in peace without all this crap. It’s hard enough dealing with the doctors and medical debt. I can’t keep the place up in the way I would like and I don’t want strangers waltzing through night and day. I’ve already been to court against these guys (I won) and it was a grueling experience taking months and there are days the pain is so bad I can’t get out of bed.

  10. Renee Corea

    If you qualify for free legal help, there are organizations that offer it in NYC. Go to LawHelp / NY and search by zip code.

    There is a great degree of variability in the effectiveness of bed bug dogs in NYC and many reported cases of false alerts. I recommend that any dog alerts be visually confirmed by the handler or a pest control professional. The building should make available inexpensive bed bug monitors (one that is recommended is called a Climbup Interceptor; it’s used under the bed posts and catches bed bugs trying to climb up or climb down) and these should be in place for at least a week.

    I must reiterate that you are required to provide access under the NYC Housing Maintenance Code. See this and also a comprehensive discussion of relevant laws here, and see also this (scroll down to the section on the comments by a tenant attorney).

    I understand that this is stressful and that you want to be left alone. I am sorry that this is happening.

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