This is a story about a property owner that assumed his building was in pristine condition. He worked hard to keep it that way but the underlying problem was not something he expected or even knew about. He now lives with the motto:

An ounce of prevention is worth a WHOLE YEAR OF RETURN ON INVESTMENT!

‘In June of 2003, I purchased a three-year-old building with 18 units. I was elated and of course, a little challenged at the same time. My building has eight two-bedroom units on each side with large three bedrooms on the top floor. Although I have had my share of problems like anyone owning and renting property would, I have never dealt with a more threatening problem as bed bugs.

I go out of my way to develop good relationships with my tenants, provide the best living environment I can, and address each or any need they have accordingly and swiftly.

I keep my building safe, maintain it impeccable; I do not apply do-it-yourself or “Band-Aid” repairs and remunerate my tenants for helping keep me abreast of any possible looming problems in the building.

Early March 2009, I received a call from my favorite “model tenant” on the sixth floor. She had been living in my property since I first purchased it and always pays her rent on time. Her unit is so tidy and clean. Everything has a place, and is in place, and every window sparkled as if it was brand new.

She stated, she was experiencing a chronic itchy skin rash of some sort. She had already been to the doctor and he ruled out possible allergies, but told her she might want to check into an environmental problem.

We decided to do a little investigating together. I called my maintenance person Jim and had him go in and make an assessment. Jim is an old timer and has an extensive background as a builder. He checked for radon, the quality of the water, air filters, smoke alarms and for any possible mold. It came up clear of any hazards that he could find.

Despite our efforts, for the next three months her rash continued.

While sipping on a cup of coffee one morning I read an article online talking about bed bugs in a hotel in New York. My eyes grew the size of my face and I immediately put in a call to my pest control company. I asked Mike what he knew about bed bugs. He explained to me that he had just gone to training on them and that they were a tough bug to deal with. I asked him to come and see what he could find.

Although my tenant told me she had not seen bugs of any kind, low and behold, he found what he just learned, was evidence of bed bugs. He first entered the room and pointed his flashlight to the corners of the room where the wall meets the ceiling.

There were small, what he called fecal traces, around the ceiling fan, curtain rods as well as a small amount of cast skins between the baseboard and carpet. All of this was on the east window side of her room where her headboard was up against the wall. He continued his investigation all along telling me that he was not very sure but is giving it his best.

Personally, Mike had never actually seen a live bed bug, only magnified pictures and slides. From what he remembered, he was sure bed bugs were the problem. He took scrapings from around the fan, cast skins from between the carpet and headed back to his office to do further investigation on what he found.

The next day he called me and explained, it was in fact, bed bugs. We set up an appointment to start treatment right away. My tenant felt immediate relief yet we knew he would be back for a second treatment in 12 more days.

Meanwhile, when he returned for the second treatment, she explained that she did not have much relief and had more rashes on her neck and shoulder. He assured her he would get her complete relief soon.

Two and half more weeks went by and there still was no relief in sight. She woke daily with new breakouts and was not sleeping. I called Mike once again and he said he would be back out to do yet another treatment but wanted to check up the stairs unit.

I explained to him the person from that unit moved out about two month ago, was really dirty and I was in the process of renovating it so expect painting supplies and many other things going on. We entered the unit together.

We immediately went into the bedroom that was just above the bedroom below. They had already painted that room and it looked good. Mike turned to me and said, “I want to take this baseboard off”. Shocked but accommodating, I agreed. He pulled out a large flathead screwdriver and drove it into the baseboard across the wall. When he pulled it away from the wall, he exposed a heavily infested baseboard and wall. Bugs were everywhere! Black smelly fecal stains peppered the length of the board every two to three inches. There were piles of empty cast skins and bed bugs in all sizes of development.

He turned to me and said, “Here is where your problem is”. This bed bug infestation had been going on for a very long time, maybe a year or more. When the person moved out, the bed bugs had to go and look for food and started to move through the walls and found their way into your woman’s unit down stairs. He said he was concerned with how many other adjoining apartments this has made its way into as well.’

To make a long story short, we found four more units with bed bugs. The “source” apartment was literally, eviscerated and by the time we got it handled, it cost me close to a whole years’ worth of my return on investment. A serious financial lesson well learned.

This scenario is becoming more common. Most property owners and management only enter their units for repairs and never suspect or check for bed bugs. The smart thing to do is have regular inspections, at least twice a year using a bed bug detection dog in all units.

Doing this will do a couple of things:

  • Find any sign of bed bugs (especially for those who are not allergic to bites)
  • Find them early (keeping infestation from spreading to adjoining units)

Mike told me to call the IBBRA or one of their members. They were so kind to help me and educate all of my tenants with a great book. They gave me bed bug posters to place in the common areas and laundry room. We now have everyone working together and have regular inspections performed by scent detection dogs over all the building twice a year.

To put this program in place for my eighteen units costs me less than 2 months rent from one of my units.

An ounce of prevention is worth a WHOLE YEAR OF RETURN ON INVESTMENT!

This situation can be financially devastating for property owners. Call Dominique for a comprehensive bed bug education and regular inspections of your units!

Call MassBedBugBusters

By Denise Donovan Founder/Director IBBRA