Forearmed against the six-legged
July 28, 2011 8:14 AM   Subscribe

We're moving in a couple weeks, and we just found out that bedbugs were spotted in our new apartment. NOOOO! What now?

We met the current tenants when we visited the apartment, and we've been able to ask them pretty much anything. The other day they emailed us the bad news. Apparently the downstairs tenant (since vacated, to my knowledge) brought them in, and they spread. A pest control company came in, and they disappeared but just now came back. The current infestation doesn't seem to be severe - yet. Pest control is coming back to treat the entire building - last time, they got only the first two floors, and the bugs apparently escaped upstairs. It's a house with three units, not a highrise, so our chances of beating them are better.

We've talked to the pest control guys. They'll be using a combination of Pyrocide and Delta Dust, and they don't think we need to take any special precautions. I've read and previous AskMes, and they've been helpful. I want to be as prepared as I possibly can.

-What else should we be asking pest control? What should we insist on?
-What can we do to supplement the professional treatment?
-How protective should we be of our stuff? Should we seal everything before we move? Are ziploc bags effective enough to keep the bugs out? Do we need to worry about our clothes?
-Is it just textiles we need to worry about keeping bedbugs out of, or everything? Do bedbugs hang out in appliances/electronics? We're concerned about the furniture, but do we need to worry about the dishwasher and computer?
-They do go away, right? With aggressive treatment and constant vigilance? Everything I've read about bedbugs suggests they're mostly a problem because they're so damn hard to get rid of.
-How can we be sure they're gone for real? Will we ever be able to relax?

Two points to consider: we have a cat and would rather not poison him. Also, we're moving in a couple weeks after our lease begins, and we'll have access to the apartment, so we can do some sort of maintenance or preventive treatment before all our stuff arrives. (If we do this, is there a risk of bedbugs hitching a ride on our stuff and coming back to our current apartment?)

Note: finding another apartment is an absolute last resort. Like, "the bedbugs are carrying guns and have stolen our credit cards" last resort. The rental market here is brutal, especially this time of year. It's highly unlikely we'll find a decent apartment in our price range on short notice, and there's no guarantee we wouldn't have a bedbug problem anywhere else. I once kicked a horrific cockroach problem on my own, so I'm prepared to fight.

Thanks (and wish us luck)!
posted by Metroid Baby to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Note: finding another apartment is an absolute last resort.

You obviously haven't lived with bed bugs. Cockroaches do not bite. If your friends find out you have cockroaches, they won't stop inviting you over. Cockroaches do not make you feel bad about going to the library, riding public transit, or going to a movie theatre for fear of spreading them.

A good friend of mine spent $6k trying to get rid of bed bugs. She gave up and finally left everything and moved. She didn't buy another mattress for 6 months, slept on an air mattress instead, for fear that some had come with her.

Finding another apartment should be your first resort.
posted by dobbs at 8:27 AM on July 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

Based on everything I have ever heard about bedbugs, I too would advise you to find another place to live.
posted by Specklet at 9:40 AM on July 28, 2011

Best answer: Considering how much you'll spend removing them and the quality of life you'll lose, they may as well be armed and have your credit cards.
posted by griphus at 10:35 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

FWIW, nobody I know here in NYC (which has been bedbug ground zero the last few years) would move into an apartment with a known, current bedbug problem if they had any other options. It is not encouraging that the landlord's pest control people only treated two floors last time, as everything I, a total amateur, have read about bedbugs indicates they will happily flee to another room/floor to escape death. This suggests they are going to be bumbling around, cutting corners, and not addressing this seriously.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't do this to yourself, dude. I have seen relationships end because of (okay, exacerbated by) the incredible and endless stress of dealing with bedbugs.
posted by elizardbits at 10:54 AM on July 28, 2011

Best answer: I would not move into an apartment I knew to have bedbugs. Consider this: if you have a bedbug infestation, you may very well need to replace all your mattresses, any wood furniture, any upholstered furniture. I have known people who have had to do this because the bedbug treatment simply wasn't killing the eggs deep within the joints and padding. Bedbugs can live in your electronics. You will have to clean and seal away everything you own. You will have to buy a Packtite (heater the size of a suitcase that heats small goods to kill bugs and eggs, costs ~$300) or else hand-check each book and magazine you own. You can never really be sure how safe your shoes are, short of Pack-titing them.

You will need to buy a lot of cleaners and poisons plus a really good vacuum and lots of vacuum bags and probably a high-quality steamer. You will need to spend hours and hours vacuuming and steaming - this will be a major component of your day every day until you beat the infestation.

You will need to change clothes the instant you get home, using a crazy dancing system of contaminated and non-contaminated shoes and clothes. You will have to wash everything all the time.

This constant heating and cleaning will make your stuff wear out much faster than it would otherwise, too.

Bedbugs are horrible, unless you're a lucky minimalist who has little and can throw most of it out.
posted by Frowner at 10:55 AM on July 28, 2011

So, if we were to try to find another apartment at this point in one weekend (hi, I'm Metroid Baby's husband, and I will also be living in this apartment), does anyone know of the likelihood that that apartment will also have bedbugs?

We'd be looking in the Somerville area near Boston. I guess we're doomed in one sense or another because most of the other apartments we looked at that were affordable for us were problematic hellholes, but we need to make the choice that is likely to have the least total doom.

And does anyone have statistics about how likely bedbug treatments are to succeed?
posted by ignignokt at 11:07 AM on July 28, 2011

What are your options for remaining where you currently live for one more month, or on a month-by-month basis?
posted by elizardbits at 11:12 AM on July 28, 2011


You do NOT fuck with bedbugs. You just don't. They are often nigh impossible to get rid of once they're really settled in.

Use to check out any apartments you're considering.
posted by Windigo at 11:12 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to double check, but I think our current place has been rented out, starting in the middle of the month.
posted by ignignokt at 11:14 AM on July 28, 2011

Response by poster: Oh dear god.

See ignignokt above; we're in a pretty tough spot. Unless we chance the bedbugs, or our current landlord takes mercy on us, we're on the curb in a couple of weeks. And we're traveling this weekend and can't cancel the trip, so that gives us very little apartment hunting time. And with the rental market what it is, I wouldn't be surprised if the only available places right now had serious problems, like, I don't know, radioactive bedbugs or human centipedes.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:34 AM on July 28, 2011

I wonder if the bedbug issue would get the landlord to revise your lease, so you could go month-to-month or limited lease, and if the bedbugs bit you could skedaddle without any issues. That might tempt me to give it a shot, esp. if the infestation is not severe, and the apartment will be vacant so you can fairly easily employ the measures above before you move in.
posted by Pants McCracky at 11:37 AM on July 28, 2011

I live in Somerville currently, have lived in a few houses in Somerville near the Tufts area, and have known many students living in houses in the area and I've never heard of anyone with bedbugs here. I might just be very sheltered/lucky, but whenever I hear about houses with bedbugs it's always from people in Allston (sorry if i'm perpetuating rumors here).

When I was apartment-hunting last year, after a first lease-signing fell through I was able to snag an affordable apartment at the last minute. My strategy was "check craigslist obsessively" and that was where I ultimately found my place with ~3wks to go. Feel free to PM me if you need any help or information.
posted by ghostbikes at 11:48 AM on July 28, 2011

Well then, OP - get yourself a storage locker, move everything you own into it, and live in the new place sleeping on an air mattress, with minimal possessions until you exorcise the place of the bugs. Or until you find a new place. Either way, storage locker - stat!
posted by lizbunny at 12:13 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

While bedbugs can hang out in metal crevices (like your computer, sure)

posted by ignignokt at 12:18 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

.....they can also hide in your electrical outlets.
posted by Windigo at 12:29 PM on July 28, 2011

Response by poster: I guess we are probably going to DTMFA. Shame, too, it was a really nice apartment.

Stay tuned for next week's question: Dear AskMe, can we crash on your couch?
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:39 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know you've already decided what to do, and so I want to congratulate you on making the right decision.
posted by Jairus at 1:23 PM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

So, if we were to try to find another apartment at this point in one weekend (hi, I'm Metroid Baby's husband, and I will also be living in this apartment), does anyone know of the likelihood that that apartment will also have bedbugs?

A lot less than 100%!
Agreeing with ghostbikes--I live in Somerville and I've never had bedbugs and I don't know anybody here who's had them.
posted by phoenixy at 1:29 PM on July 28, 2011

Follow-up: So, the landlord for the bedbug place wants August rent, plus half a month's rent to cover realtor costs. I proposed just August rent. The ball is in his court at the moment.

I read through the lease, and there's very little about how to go about voiding it. Is there any sort of law or precedent I can leverage in the negotiations? Ethically, I don't think we should have to pay anything - they didn't disclose the apartment's bedbug history. But that's not going to pack much of a punch here.
posted by ignignokt at 2:11 PM on July 28, 2011

Check with a local tenants' rights organization! Having and not disclosing a known bedbug infestation sounds like a big deal to me, but I am neither a tenant nor a landlord in your state.
posted by elizardbits at 2:48 PM on July 28, 2011

The landlord failing to keep your apartment free from insect infestation is a legally valid reason to withhold a portion of your rent in MA. However, there's a process you do have to go through first (including notifying the landlord of the issue in writing--not that he doesn't already know about it--and getting the building inspected by the board of health) so it's not necessarily clear that you're in a situation where you can take advantage of this out. I agree that you should contact a tenants' rights organization who might have more information.

What else...what the landlord is asking for seems not totally unreasonable. The law in MA is that you can (as a tenant) break your lease whenever, but you are on the hook for the cost of finding a new tenant, and you have to pay rent until one is found, although the landlord is obligated to engage in a good-faith search for a new tenant and not just sit there keeping your apartment vacant and collecting your rent. So the landlord asking only for August rent and brokerage fees isn't necessarily such a bad deal, although it's probably because he thinks he can rent out the apartment for September 1 without a problem.
posted by phoenixy at 3:39 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, we've moved into a different apartment that is bedbug-free (as far as anyone knows, knock on wood). The search was an ordeal and took up all our free time for over a week, but we got through it in the end.

As for the bedbuggy apartment: it’s since come to light that the re-infestation was worse, and the landlord shadier, than we’d originally thought. We’ve talked to the previous tenants and their story is similar to many of yours: they spent so much time and money fighting the bugs, could barely sleep, and in the end had to replace everything. The landlord had no plans to tell us about the bedbugs, and tried to keep the old tenants from telling us. It sounds like they might not have been honest about their extermination efforts, either.

Thanks for setting us right. I have no idea how much hell we’ve avoided by listening to y’all. I hope I never will know.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:33 AM on September 1, 2011

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