What to do about Bed Bugs

Pest infestation is a huge topic for property owners and property managers. But it concerns Owners’ Associations as well.

Let’s just talk about bed bugs for now. For those of you who rent unfurnished units, this kind of infestation can be brought in to your property by your tenants unknowingly. Bed bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. They are usually active at night when people are sleeping. Adult bed bugs have flat, rusty-red colored oval bodies, no wings and are about the size of an apple seed. They are big enough to be easily seen, but hide in mattresses, box springs, bedding, cracks in furniture, floors, or walls. When bed bugs feed, they swell and become brighter red. They can live for several months to over a year without feeding. They don’t jump or fly, and they crawl and move about the same speed as an ant.

How to find bedbugs:
Look for signs of an infestation that may include:
Itchy skin welts on your body
Small blood smears on bedding from crushed insects
Tiny dark spots on your sheets, mattress or box spring which are their fecal droppings
Dried remains of shed bed bug skins
Be aware that other insects, such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitos, can leave bites that look like bed bug bites. Bites alone cannot prove you have a bed bug infestation. Newly hatched bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, pale yellow in color, almost transparent, and very difficult to see. Once they have fed, they become larger and are red or brown in color which makes them easier to see. Bed bug eggs are white and about the size of two grains of salt. When laid, they are cemented to surfaces making them difficult to remove. Bed bug bites are a nuisance and annoying, but bed bugs are not known to spread diseases. Try not to scratch bites because it increases the risk of skin infections.

How do Bed Bugs Get In?
Bed bugs are not a result of poor housekeeping. Anyone can have bed bugs. People bring bed bugs into their homes unknowingly in infested luggage, backpacks, purses, furniture, bedding, shoes or clothing. They can also travel between apartments through cracks in walls and floors.

Total release pesticide foggers or ‘bug bombs’ can force bed bugs into adjacent apartments. DO NOT USE: ‘Bug Bombs’. They do not control bed bugs and using ‘bug bombs’ improperly can be dangerous and spreads pesticide throughout your home.

If you have bed bugs and live in a rental property, notify the property manager immediately. Do not use pesticides to treat for bed bugs yourself. “General use” pesticides are not effective against bed bugs and their use may cause the bed bugs to spread to adjacent units.

Read more about erradication here
Bed bugs present a particularly difficult problem because erradication will require the cooperation of the residents who report the infestation.  Most Property Management Companies have pest control contracts, and can call the PCO to investigate.  But who pays this cost?  If you have a lease which includes resolution when bed bugs are found, you can follow the guidelines in the lease.  But bed bugs are extremely contagious.  They can move into adjoining units quickly through cracks.  It is best to eradicate first and ask questions later.

But what happens if an owner in your Owner’s Association rents his furnished property and the renter reports bed bugs.  The resolution to this problem depends upon the jurisdiction.  In some  jurisdictions, there is a common law concept known as the covenant of quiet enjoyment. At common law, this was strictly a landlord-tenant concept and did not affect HOAs such as condominiums. It provides, in layman’s terms, that the landlord will not permit the property be maintained in such a fashion that the tenant cannot enjoy his/her residency. Some HOAs documents contain language that require the HOA to keep the property “properly” maintained..This or similar language might be deemed to create a contractual covenant of quiet enjoyment. Even if not, a problem like bed bugs which can travel through common property and is not stopped at the boundary of a unit may be actionable.  In this case, the owner/landlord would be responsible for resolving the issue as expediciously as possible.

Here is a typical story of how innocently a bed bug infestation can happen: