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never thought how quickly bedbugs could become my problem.
June 3, 2014 4:12 PM   Subscribe

Bedbugs in apartment we just moved into. What to do? Legally, practically, emotionally.

Moved into a new apartment on may 31st. Yesterday afternoon I was hanging out on our bed and found three bedbugs crawling at me. Looked on mattress and found like 15 (were not there when we moved in). Then saw that both of the wintdowsills next to the bed were covered in black dots.

Talked to the landlord this morning, he said they had been there when the last tenants moved out eight months ago but he'd treated them and thought they were gone. Great. He also said that he'd had them in his apartment (this is a three story place, landlord on top, us in the middle, and a ton of people in the bottom floor apartment). Kept telling us that he'd "successfully eradicated" them "many times" before. Yeah dude. Okay. Also keeps telling me that it's not the end of the world.

He wanted to treat for them himself, we were all like ”no way" so an exterminator is coming tomorrow. To his credit, he has been responsive and prompt, but I don't think he understands the seriousness of the problem and is not going to treat the other two units and I have no faith that this is actually going to succeed.

Our situation: me and my boyfriend, both just moved here for new jobs, both broke due to moving costs and paycheck gaps. We are on a month to month lease, though we said we would be staying through August. This is not in our lease, only verbally. We do not have the money to forfeit the rent we paid for june.

We don't have a ton of stuff, most of it was still in boxes in a different room that we rarely go into (unfortunately this is the second bedroom, no evidence of bugs but I think the previous tenants had kids, so it was probably used as a bedroom). Everything was all put into trash bags this morning. We had thought about sticking it in our cars in the sun just in case bugs had managed to get in. Okay idea? Not sufficient? Overreacting? Everything in the bedroom has stayed where it was, have not moved things around.

Questions:

Should we move or am i overreacting? Is it "safe" to move at the end of the month if the exterminator has been here a few times, even if we're not sure that the building is good?

Legally, what should we be doing to cover ourselves? If we move out in July and he tries to keep our security deposit, for instance, or whatever other legal way we could get screwed here. We have photos from yesterday on our phones of the preexisting evidence of bb. We are in providence, ri.

What else should we do now, practically, to deal with the bugs?

I'm super upset about this. We'd just gotten settled after a long period of lots of crazy stuff and now all of my things are in bags and there chemicals all over and a long list of things we need to do/buy with our no money. How can I can i calm down?
posted by geegollygosh to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Bed bug survivor here - sorry you're going through this. It sucks big time.

Should we move or am i overreacting? Is it "safe" to move at the end of the month if the exterminator has been here a few times, even if we're not sure that the building is good?

I've heard extermination success stories, but moving was the only was I was able to ditch my bed bug problem once and for all. To be frank, unless the adjacent units are treated you are unlikely to see much success with extermination...I would definitely start making plans to move. You should know, though, that this will be no ordinary move. My move involved abandoning all of my furniture and most of my luggage, laundering and drying (at max heat) all of my clothing and linens, before sealing them up in giant Ziploc bags. I sealed my books up in large Rubbermaid containers and left them untouched for months. It was extremely stressful, but totally worth it.

Legally, what should we be doing to cover ourselves? If we move out in July and he tries to keep our security deposit, for instance, or whatever other legal way we could get screwed here. We have photos from yesterday on our phones of the preexisting evidence of bb. We are in providence, ri.

Sorry, not my area - but I bet someone else on here can help with this.

What else should we do now, practically, to deal with the bugs?

I found Bedbugger to be a great resource for questions like this. Some of the people posting there are going through absolute worst case situations, however, so prepare yourself to take the info on the site with a grain of salt.

I'm super upset about this. We'd just gotten settled after a long period of lots of crazy stuff and now all of my things are in bags and there chemicals all over and a long list of things we need to do/buy with our no money. How can I can i calm down?

Ugh, I know this feeling. To be honest, this is a very unpleasant and very stressful situation. Only two things worked for me in terms of keeping calm: (1) spending as much time as humanly possible out of the apartment and (2) making "this too shall pass" my mantra. (My mom says that all the time, and I usually just roll my eyes - but I found it to be a useful notion during my bed bug experience.)

I hope you guys can sort this out soon and get on with your lives. The beg bug PTSD will pass eventually, I promise! Good luck.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:35 PM on June 3


Oh, and if you do abandon your furniture, the kind thing to do is to write "BED BUGS" on it with permanent marker, so that anyone who stumbles upon the items doesn't take them home.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:36 PM on June 3 [12 favorites]


the paycheck gaps suggest you may be eligible for a free lawyer from a legal services program like rhode island legal services; check them out at www.rils.org.

do what the lawyer says, but if i were me, i would 1) get the health department over and try to revoke his occupancy certificate, 2) get him to refund all of your rent and security deposits, and reimburse you for anything you have to throw out, 3) get him to pay your moving expenses, 4) get him to pay an additional, substantial sum for your time, trouble and the affront to your dignity, 5) move out right away and 6) see if i could get the media involved.

your legal services lawyer will love this. there's a chance for a contingent fee here, which will go to supporting the good works of his/her program.
posted by bruce at 4:38 PM on June 3 [7 favorites]


I honestly think the "move and throw everything away" people are overreacting and catastrophizing.

Get the exterminator out there NOW. Ask them, and you'll need to push them with the 3+ employees i've dealt with, everything you can possibly do to help even if they weren't going to tell you because "this doesn't look that bad, and you don't need to take stuff that seriously because this isn't the worst infestation i've seen". Do ALL of it, and don't cheat at all. Yes moving all your furniture so you can get the bags in the middle of the room and keep them away from everything sucks. Yes, bagging up everything for like over a month that you can't dry on high heat sucks. yes, living out of a bag sucks. Do it all, and stay vigilant.

Push the landlord HARD to have the exterminator check the downstairs apartment. Move at the end of the treatment if he wont, or if those people push back against letting him do it(which may or may not be legal in your area).

Personally, i had a good responsive landlord(who expected me to pay for everything, ugh, which was in the lease and is apparently quasi legal here) and followed all the instructions and never had a problem again.

I would seriously move if the landlord didn't inspect the bottom unit as well though. I've lived in places where pests just got chased upstairs and downstairs. If they're willing to work with it and treat the WHOLE BUILDING it can easily be dealt with. If they try and cheap out and only spot-clean like what's been somewhat suggested by your story it's ALWAYS bad news, and a sign of much bigger problems with landlord attitude.
posted by emptythought at 4:41 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Can you talk to the other tenants and let them know about your professional exterminator and encourage them to demand the same as well as professional extermination of your landlord's apartment? Gang up on your landlord?

Also mention to your exterminator that s/he should emphasize to your landlord that the entire building needs professional treatment if it's going to be effective. Exterminator should be able to disabuse your landlord of the notion that self-treating is going to get results.

Also, yes to lawyer and/or tenants organization. And, take detailed notes about your observations as well as what is said during your conversations with landlord.
posted by quince at 4:43 PM on June 3


I am sorry too. For me, we were never able to fully eliminate the bugs until I moved, which I did at the first opportunity. The landlord has to go full nuclear on the situation with all units. If they do not address all units at the same time and usually multiple times over a couple months to deal with the new hatchlings from eggs, it is a futile exercise.

Depending on where you live, this should be a great time of year to heat treat your belongings. For me, I live in Arizona, so I loaded up all my belongings into a Uhaul for the move, but I left everything in the truck for about 3 days in the middle of our summer heat. By the time I pulled everything out, there were only dead bugs at the bottom of the bags. Despite some PTSD paranoia for a few months that I still had bugs, they were gone.
posted by insert.witticism.here at 4:45 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Another bed bug survivor here. I'm sorry you're dealing with this.

It's good the landlord is doing things. As for covering yourself, I'd take pictures. Look up your local laws and contact a tenants' union if you're not sure what your rights are. My area allowed for a reduction in rent, fully refundable deposit, and the landlords also paid for my second move. However, if your landlord doesn't want to give you money, then you'd have to take him to court, and there's still no guarantee he'd give you money. But yes, tenants' union.

Should we move or am i overreacting? Is it "safe" to move at the end of the month if the exterminator has been here a few times, even if we're not sure that the building is good?

Bed bugs are able to travel through walls and also climb through electrical sockets. If your landlord has bed bugs and is not treating all known infected units and their adjacent units, I don't see how the problem will be solved.

We moved after seeing 2 bed bugs and getting bit, and the landlord did 2 or 3 treatments. We hauled ALL of our clothing and blankets to the laundromat to heat treat.

Unfortunately, it traveled with us to our stand alone house. But at least it wasn't infecting other people...

What else should we do now, practically, to deal with the bugs?

For now, you can get a bedbug cover for your bed. Move your bed away from the wall. Heat treat everything soft on your bed. (Run it through the dryer on high.) And then make a moat around your bed with (food grade) diatomaceous earth. Don't put down to much DE, since it's bad for your lungs. But the bed bugs won't across it and you'll stop getting bitten for a while.

You can also get some 2 liter bottles, straws, and yeast and make bed bug traps that will last several days at a time. (Google it for better instructions). If you cover your bed with a plastic sheet too slippery for the bedbugs to climb, and keep traps underneath while you sleep, you'll also stop getting bitten.

I'm super upset about this. We'd just gotten settled after a long period of lots of crazy stuff and now all of my things are in bags and there chemicals all over and a long list of things we need to do/buy with our no money. How can I can i calm down?

Keep in mind that bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases, so that's good. And that there are bed bug survivors out there.

Chemical treatments ended up not working out for us. (We also had some strange bed bugs, apparently.) But chemical treatments did work for my cousin in Boston.

These are roughly the directions we ended up following to get rid of bed bugs. We bought soda, cups and everything for about $30. http://julesnoise.com/1-2/
posted by ethidda at 4:48 PM on June 3


I want to deal with this as little as possible. It is not my priority to make sure this place is free of bugs. I want to make sure my stuff is free of bugs. My stuff has been in this place for 48 hours. I don't know how much damage could have been done in that time. I can keep it in bags for the month and deal. I don't want to make sure this whole building gets treated and live through months of treatment unless it is the only option. I want the option that will result in the least long term disruption to my life. Again, I don't mind moving as long as they won't follow me.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:54 PM on June 3


I would start by just asking for your rent money to be refunded (maybe pro-rated maybe not -- it's not like rental units never sit vacant) and that you will move out this weekend. Print out some horror stories from bedbugger about the costs people have incurred and let him know that he is lucky you aren't asking him to cover your moving van and laundering costs. If I were in your shoes, I'd be doing exactly what you are doing. But if I were a landlord, I would happily have someone leave instead of asking for ongoing professional extermination services. Then post a warning on the bedbug registry as a public service.
posted by salvia at 5:11 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Sorry if that follow-up sounded cranky. I'm a little cranky :) I appreciate everyone's answers. I guess part of my question is 'can I salvage this situation without living out of bags for 5 months or is that already my fate even though I just moved in'?
posted by geegollygosh at 5:27 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I've been in a similar situation and pretty much followed shroedingersgirl's script exactly, abandoned my furniture (which for me was only a bed) laundered my clothes, ditched the books (sob!) and bagged everything up and moved.

You ask if 48 hours is enough for an infestation? Another time I had an infestation (yes, went through this twice, in different countries, both inflicted on me by backpackers) a backpacker stayed one night in my home and that was enough. That time we brought in an exterminator but we caught it early and it was just our apartment. You have a different situation where no amount of exterminating will help unless they do the whole building. The thing is, you can take the risk and not go through the bagging drama, but do you really, really want to go through the hassle of moving just to discover that you've brought them with you? Do it right the first time.

I really feel for you. And I wouldn't be nice about it, I would go after moving costs etc from your landlord. Hell, why should you pay? At the very least the financial hit may make him clean up his act, literally, before he does this again to someone else.
posted by Jubey at 6:31 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I had a mild/moderate bedbug infestation some years ago (Brooklyn). After a few weeks of itching I figured out that they were definitely caused by bedbugs. The landlord had the exterminator over, who sprayed once. Clothes and such that I couldn't high heat dry I bagged. Didn't have to throw out a single thing. The biggest hassle ended up being finding a friend to take my cats for a few days. The bedbugs never came back, and I'm still living there now. Don't panic.
posted by demons in the base at 8:07 PM on June 3


(Sorta felt like I earned my NYC red badge of courage then)
posted by demons in the base at 8:09 PM on June 3


Surround everything you want to keep bedbug free with Diatomaceous Earth. Exterminators were no help to us, but Diatomaceous Earth worked. And, eventually got rid of them all.
posted by hworth at 8:36 PM on June 3


Yep, survivor of the Great New York Infestation of 2007/08 here.

I threw out all upholstered furniture and all bedding. Tears and dollars shed everywhere.

I curbed it all and marked it up with skulls and crossbones, and "BUGS."

For the clothing, I boiled it. Yep, boiled. Bought huge pots from the restaurant supply stores on Bowery and boiled it all. Then I bleached everything I could bleach.

Then I moved. It took the landlords of that apartment ripping up the entire floor to eradicate it, last I heard.

Anyway. Emotionally? SHAME. Oh, the shame. It's not nearly as bad as it was, but at the time it was The Thing of Which We Do Not Speak, and I just stayed up nights, tying hoodies around my face and wearing multiple pants.

Don't do that. It's nothing you've done; you're not dirty; it's a fact of life.

Please don't put that shit in your car. It's full of upholstery, which they love.

I can't speak to the financials - I was subletting a single room. So I just GTFO'ed into the first bug-free room I could find, and Ikea-ed it up.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. Everything about it is crazy making.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:36 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


(I think the common thread here is that it depends on how bad the infestation is.)
posted by functionequalsform at 8:37 PM on June 3


So, when this happened to me, I bought a big, cheap mosquito no-see-um mesh tent put it on top of my mattress and slept this way. I wasn't too careful about transferring stuff in and out of the tent. But, from the very first night, I went from five bites a night to zero bites a night moving forward.

You hear how these things can live for like two years without eating, but I have a theory. I think if they can sense heat and carbon dioxide they don't hibernate and they try to find the source, and they run out of stored food and die. I few months of this and I moved with all my stuff and never had a problem again. I didn't use any pesticide, I didn't treat my stuff. YMMV, and there might be security deposit or ethical issues involved.
posted by zeek321 at 7:23 AM on June 4


Update: So landlord has offered to refund the rent and we move out if that's what we want, or give us reduced rent and we stay. All of our things are in black trashbags in our cars waiting for sun and high temperatures. Don't know if that will be good enough or what our next step is, but at least things aren't getting worse. All cloth things are in bags waiting for laundromat when I'm done with work today. Exterminator coming at noon.

Landlord seems to feel guilty but also thinks I'm overreacting I think. Says we will get the pros in as many times as it takes. ugghhh still don't know what to do, move or stay.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:45 AM on June 4


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