Not too long ago, bed bug alerts included an article on a city council in Augusta, Maine, adopting an emergency ordinance to provide rules and tools to fight and prevent bedbug infestations in their housing. They put together a task force because neither state nor city codes address bed bugs specifically and do not provide sufficient authority to take necessary enforcement actions when needed.

This is not an isolated incident or problem, it is happening across the nation every day. We have observed many of these different scenarios:

  1. Landlords are advised of a bedbug situation – they read online what is used for bed bugs treatment, make the purchase and send in their own maintenance staff to treat in an effort to keep the cost down and appease the tenant that something was done. Of course, this backfires and spreads the bed bugs.
  2. Landlords hire a pest control company without “prequalifying” them (they may not have enough bed bug experience in multi-unit properties but say they do), to treat only the particular unit that complained without investigating surrounding units for the source. Within a short amount of time, the bed bugs spread even further throughout the building.
  3. Landlords have tenants sign one-sided Bed Bug Addendums in hopes that they can skirt the costs of elimination and place the cost on the tenant. This also backfires and causes the tenant to hide the fact they have bedbug bites and attempt self-treatment, which also spread the bed bugs.
  4. Finally yet importantly are the “slumlords” that do nothing and before you know it, whole buildings are infested.

So where does one go from here?

Sure, we can muscle and penalize landlords and hold them accountable, after all it is their buildings but why should this be a one-sided approach? Bedbugs create a huge challenge for even the most experienced professional and the work requires a greater intelligence than for any other pest.

On the flip side, there are many responsible landlords that have problematic tenants that either refuse entrance to their units or don’t prepare their units properly for treatment.

Whose fault is it anyway?

Let’s face it! Everyone is at risk for bed bugs, at least if you have blood running through your veins. So take a parasite that can virtually affect any living human being and place “blame”?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

The intended ordinance is for strong-arming landlords and in our opinion, is not a good solution. Creating stronger enforcement actions only cause dissention between landlords, tenants and city officials. So why not create cohesive solutions that bring people together, establish policies and procedures and get everyone on the same page here.

By following this new ordinance, landlords will face a tremendous financial outlay that in most cases will diminish their return on investment in a short period of time, especially if they have to provide a bug-free place for tenants to reside while their units are being treated. On top of it, holding them responsible for treating all tenants’ belongings, mockeries! The potential is tens of thousands of dollars here.

Then, if the landlord fails to comply with made up rules, the city can take charge, remediate the problem and recover the cost from the landlord by exercising a special tax or by placing a lien on the property. It’s no wonder why many landlords have thrown their hands up and are selling their properties.

To us it is obvious that these city officials are not well educated in the nature of bed bugs nor do they understand what it takes to do a proper bed bug treatment in multi-unit properties. Before long, it won’t be worth it to own rental property.

Are we fighting a losing battle?

By telling a tenant to be sure to inform the landlord they have bed bugs is like me telling you to let me know when my trees need pruning. Arbitrary as it may seem, most tenants don’t have a clue what a bed bug is. Nor do they understand the signs of bed bugs and unless they are being bitten, they have no clue that they may even have them. I’ve seen a lot of sheets that are given to tenants that provide six or seven paragraphs explaining bed bugs. No pictures – no policies, etc. Yet, they are expected to know.

Look, I am not pretentious, nor do I know it all, but I have worked with some of the most educated bed bug professionals in the world and the solution is a whole lot simpler than they are making it. You can either create “duties and ordinances” that cause resentment or make and follow “policies and procedures” and put an action plan in place to protect everyone.

Augusta’s Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said it well “At this point, this is so bad the entire city is at risk. They can be spread to schools, businesses. I don’t feel like I’m protecting just the tenant. I’m protecting all of the citizens of the city.”

Amen! I believe this woman “gets it”. It’s obvious that she doesn’t see bed bugs as an isolated problem but understands that when infestations occur in multi-unit properties, whole communities are at risk.
Come on folks, let’s pull this together!

MassBedBugBusters works with property managers, business owners and homeowners providing education on bed bugs and teaches proper methods and techniques to stay on top of any bed bug situation.

We will help you reduce “infestations” to “occurrences”, while sharing responsibility for both landlords and tenants and teach you how to prevent bed bugs from taking over whole buildings.

Feel free to reach out to us for any bed bug related problems.