Usually here on Brooklyn Based we like to present you with guides for fun–new neighborhoods to explore, clubs to join, museums to visit. Sometimes though, we have to get serious and recommend dentists or tips on how to hold onto your bike.
Now we’re going to tell you how to arm yourself in the war against bedbugs.
Earlier this spring the Daily News reported that New York City should brace itself for a deluge of new bedbug cases this summer. Subsequently, The Wall Street Journal chimed in quoting the owner of an extermination business who explained that the tiny bloodsuckers reproduce more quickly in the summer. He called 80-degree temperatures, bedbug “heaven.”
We spoke with bedbug expert, Missy Henriksen, vice president of external affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and she warned that bedbugs are all over the place, in hotel rooms, clothing stores, in movie theaters, in gyms and health clubs. “Bedbugs are hitchhikers, ” she says. “They travel with us. Anywhere where people are, bedbugs will be found.”
Yikes. So what to do if you’re not willing to add “bloodmeal” to your job description? Plenty. The great city of New York has a number of public health protections in place designed to help you through bedbug hell, pest management companies are getting better at treating infestations and there are more options than ever for getting rid of them.
How Will You Know?
Bedbug bites affect each person differently. If you share your bed, one person tends to get bitten more often than the other, and reactions can vary wildly. Some bites are small, others bigger than a quarter. They are often in a straight line or in clusters of three. “In our industry we call that breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says Henriksen. The bites and itchiness tend to persist longer than a mosquito bite would.
Also, if someone in your building, especially in a unit above, below or to the side has them, be extra vigilant. Watch for weird bites and inspect your mattress and box spring for bugs and tiny red-brown spots from their excrement, called “bedbug dirt” in the business.
Get an Expert Opinion
Most legitimate companies will do an inspection for free. If you suspect bedbugs, call a pest management professional as soon as possible. The quicker you act the smaller the problem and the easier the treatment.
“I’d direct people to a website launched by the City and City Council earlier this year that provides information on how to recognize, prevent, and treat bedbug infestations,” says Eric Bederman, press secretary for the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “Having access to accurate information and educating yourself before being confronted with an infestation really is the first and best line of defense for tenants and landlords. That being said, if a tenant does have a bedbug infestation and the landlord does not take steps to address the problem, they should call 311 to report the matter to HPD.”
Your Landlord is Required to Exterminate
That’s right, your landlord is responsible for exterminating bedbugs, along with roaches, rats, mice and other vermin. Which is makes being a renter even more appealing–it’s not uncommon for the extermination bill to exceed $1000.
From the Department of Health website: “For tenants in New York, the right to a bedbug-free environment is included in New York City’s Housing and Maintenance Code, Subchapter 2, Article 4, which specifically names bedbugs in the list of insects the landlord is legally obligated to eradicate.”
What does that actually mean? You can’t just call up the exterminator and then send your landlord the bill. You have to go through the landlord first. They have to 30 days to act, and they have the right to hire the exterminator of their choosing. Most likely your landlord or property manager already has a pest control company they know and trust.
In the event that your landlord refuses to act or tries to do the work himself without hiring experts, then you can file a complaint with Department of Housing and Preservation by calling 311. HPD will follow up with an inspection and can slap non-compliant building owners (of multi-family buildings with three or more units, no commercial buildings and no pubic housing) with a violation, which comes along with a court date and potential fines.
If you own your own place, well, you’ll want to pay close attention to prevention strategies and pay close attention to who you hire to address the problem.
Finding a Good Exterminator
If you own your home and you’re looking for an exterminator, NYC.gov has this handy PDF to help you choose the right company. Stuart Aust, president of Bug Doctor, a pest management company that serves all five boroughs, says, “I would recommend choosing someone who is a member of the NPMA. You want a reputable company, somebody that has credentials. Look for the Quality Pro designation–only about 350-400 companies across U.S. have it and it requires everything from training to background checks, to physicals for workers.“
You also want a company with licensed workers that is registered with the state and you can check on the company you want to hire (or that your landlord has hired) by calling (718) 482-4994 or visiting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Do Your Part
Before the exterminator comes to treat your apartment there’s a lot of prep work that has to happen. A lot.
Your pest control company will give you a detailed sheet describing the work. Be prepared to put everything you own into trash bags and live out of those bags for several weeks–or even months. All the clothing out of drawers and closets, all furniture pulled away from the walls, all clutter removed. You will also have to put all your clothes and bedding in the dryer on high for at least 30 minutes and then seal them in bags. “It’s very labor intensive–similar to lice,” says Henriksen.
Aust says that roommate situations can exacerbate the problem if not everyone is on board to clean, declutter and comply. “The key thing is getting prepared,” he says. “Everybody’s got to do their part. If someone is not, then you give them the information and you say ‘Hey, this what needs to be done.'”
Failing that, you there are companies you can hire to clean and prep for you. Aust speaks highly of Prep4Bedbugs, saying that it can mean the difference between eliminating an infestation and just beating it back.
Having Bedbugs Does Not Make You Dirty…But They Do Love Clutter
Bedbugs are not attracted to trash or filth or dirt–they are attracted to you and your delicious blood. Think of them as tiny vampires that don’t burn up, or sparkle for that matter, in the sunlight. “Bedbugs are an equal opportunity pest,” says Hendrikson. “It does not does not mean a home is dirty or unkempt.” Aust mentioned a recent case in which someone who was a hoarder called Bug Doctors for help with bedbugs. “They had so much stuff–makes it tough to treat,” he says. Think of it as an opportunity to purge without having to have a stoop sale or make a million trips to the Salvation Army.
What to Expect
There are many different treatments these days, including freezing, heating and dog detection. Aust mentioned that there are lower-dose pesticides as well. Still, a person who comes and inspects and then sprays with pesticide is the standard, and the management company will want to come at least twice and likely three times–during which all your belonging must remained bagged. For green and organic methods you may need even more applications over a longer period of time. A good company will offer several options and will talk them over with you.
The Mattress Question
Should you throw your mattress out? No, not yet. Listen to your exterminator on this one, but basically here’s how it works: Bed bugs are in your mattress. If you go dragging it through your apartment and building you might spread them around. You can either buy a cheap mattress encasement–covers that don’t let bugs in or out–and then buy a new mattress once you’ve been declared bedbug free. Or, get a nicer cover (about $75 for the mattress, less for the box spring) and live with the knowledge that there are bedbug bodies inside. You’ll get a new mattress eventually.
Not All is Lost
As bedbugs become more common, pesticides are becoming better at treating them. The standard recommendation for things like books and papers, places bedbugs like to live but that can’t be thrown in the dryer to kill the bugs and eggs, was to bag and store them for two years. Now you can put them in a heavy duty trash bag, insert a pest control strip to kill anything that crawls or hatches, then seal it for three to five days (or a week if you’re paranoid). Two common brands are Hot Shot and Nuvan Pro-strips. Order through Amazon if you can’t get them otherwise; not all sites will ship to NY residents.
Exterminators are also getting better at bedbug management all the time. The resurgence took them by surprise as much as the rest of us. “I’m in the industry over 20 years,” says Aust. “Back the clock up 10 to 15 years ago and we’d probably get 3 to 5 bedbug calls in year. Now on a slow day we get 3 to 5 calls, and more like 8 or 10 calls some days. We’ve gotten better at it, our industry has really taken the bull by the horns.”
For bed bug prevention tips and more info (pics, too if you can stomach it), check these resources:
All Things Bedbugs, National Pest Management Association
NYC.gov Bedbugs guide, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
PlanNYC bedbugs tracking portal (where the map above came from)
Tenants and homeowners fact sheet, Metropolitan Council on Housing
The Bedbug Registry, Bedbug reports for NYC and beyond
Another tidbit worth knowing: If you are renting an apartment in New York City you can request the bedbug history of the unit and the building for the past year. The landlord must complete this form at your request.