Bedbugs in Los Angeles - treatment, next steps?
November 6, 2011 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Bedbugs in Los Angeles in a (really great, otherwise) rental - Landlord's had it "treated" once, and it hasnt worked. Could use some advice on next steps, before I completely lose my mind. Long-ish sob story inside...

Moved to a (expensive for me) rental in August, from San Diego, where I've never heard of any bedbugs. I was relocated here by my company for work. Within a week, we started getting bites. Did not see any evidence of bugs, including bedbugs, when I did an initial check. Reported it to on site property managers, did everything I was supposed to do. They said the exterminator comes every other week and will look into it.

Nothing really happened for a few weeks (still getting bit), and I was ratcheting up the complaints when I found a bedbug crawling out of my light switch in the bedroom. I dont think I've ever been so happy to see a bug, because I had PROOF! Showed it to the property management guys, who eventually (took about a week and a half) had the exterminator come out. He said we have a "light" infestation, and I'd tend to agree...We dont get bit every night, and it is mainly just on our arms.

About a week later, I was told last minute that the exterminator was coming in that day to do treatment. According to the paperwork left behind that is hard to read, they treated with Imidacloprid, diatomaceous earth and pyrethrin along "cracks and crevices" as well as inspected and "treated" our couch and mattress. We were also instructed to do the whole "run every piece of clothing, bedding, towels, etc through the dryer" thing that same day, which we were unable to do because we work and that took forever... Compromise with exterminator was that all untreated items went into xxl ziploc bags, until treated, then could be put back. We did that in two nights. Started getting bites again immediately, and was told that it would take two weeks for treatment to fully play out and if it doesnt work, they do it again.

Two weeks is this Tuesday. Admittedly, we are getting less bites, but still some. Last night, I was able to capture another bedbug on the same wall. Seemed stunned/half dead, so I do believe things are working a little bit. But, I'm starting to lose my mind - even if it is a "light" infestation. Also, I've kept a timeline of all our interactions, documenting when I talked to each person, and what went on. Note: I do not believe they are treating the rest of the building.

I'm not sure how to proceed. I feel like they need to take a stronger plan of attack, as I'm not sure how many of these "treat/put everything through the dryer/wait" sessions I can do. Thing is, I have no idea what to ask for - information on the internet often seems like you just need to move and nuke the site from orbit. Part of me wants to do just that.
Special snowflake details: My wedding is less than two months away. I just started my dream job, and people there are commenting on the bites. This is a high stress time without the bedbug situation making it worse. It upsets me a lot to know that I cant keep my wedding dress here, and it is also super inconvenient. It also super stresses me out to think of bites all over my arms in all my wedding pictures. Then there's the social stress...Logically I know that it doesnt have anything to do with my personal habits, but I cant have people over and I worry about spreading bugs to my friends and co-workers.

So, enough sobbing and on to the questions - best way to let the property managers know that I need them to ratchet up their treatment? Should I get my own exterminator for a second opinion? I dont know how on earth I'd afford that...Am I legally allowed to break my lease at this point? I dont know how I could possibly deal with new job/wedding stress and then add moving to it, but I cant deal with this forever. Can I threaten this to them? Withhold rent? We wanted this rental so bad, and the only way they'd let us rent it is if we'd give them double deposit (because my fiance didnt have a job when we relocated), so we do have quite a bit of $$ sunk into this place that we cant just lose. Would we get that $$ back? The owner of the building seems like a major hardass, and all my interaction goes through the property managers - nice, compassionate guys, but I can tell they dont have all the power in the world.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
We just had a bedbug sighting at my workplace and the Environmental Health Services guys came out to give a talk. EHS has developed a series of guidelines on handling infestations, maybe they would be helpful resource in working with your property people? They contract with a firm that uses procedures that are apparently state of the art (green but also effective) - I realize that you aren't in the Bay Area, but maybe you could call them and get guidance about some reputable firms down in your part of the world.

One guy at the talk spoke about an infestation in his home. He said it took 6 months to finally feel free of them, during which time he felt that he was going crazy. Sorry you're going through this - it sounds like a nightmare.
posted by jasper411 at 4:32 PM on November 6, 2011

I had a "light" infestation that lasted weeks and gave me nightmares. There's really no such thing with bedbugs as treat and forget -- you need to develop a comprehensive set of defenses, such as isolating your bed, and treating, and detecting, and drying/bagging all your clothes, and if you're not as lucky as me doing things like freezing furniture (something potentially possible this winter, depending on your weather in the Bay). It's sad to say but exterminators are just one part of this equation and you'll have to do a lot of it yourself.

No good answers for you, I'm afraid. Break your lease? Well, potentially, but I'd get a lawyer. Go on with the wedding? Scary, but I'd give it a real think, depending on how much you'd lose in deposits and the like. Good luck.
posted by dhartung at 4:55 PM on November 6, 2011

You know, the exterminators who specialize in bedbug treatment -- like Cooper in NJ -- always say that at least two visits are necessary, and eradication takes an average of three visits, because here's what happens: they lay down the poison, and that kills most of the live bedbugs, but it doesn't kill the eggs. That is Cooper's reason, at least, for why they insist on doing a follow-up treatment two weeks after the initial treatment, and often a third.

I say this as someone who got a unit treated five times over the course of a year, because it had a "mild infestation," to no good result. We never figured out where they were coming from, and we did *everything* right -- we lived out of giant Ziplock bags for months; we pulled our clothes straight off our bodies and into the dryer for a round before washing and then drying again; we let nothing touch the bed but our bodies, we put Climb-up intercepts everywhere. And while there would be weeks after treatment where we seemed clear, eventually a new bite would pop up and we'd find a dead one in one of the interceptors.

There was some systemic problem in the building that wasn't getting treated. Finally, thank God, work took else elsewhere, and we put all our stuff in a moving truck and got it gassed with Vikane at a ridiculously high cost. That killed everything in our belongings. But it gave us both a hell of a headache when we were unpacking afterward.

If you were getting bitten immediately after moving in, and you saw a bedbug coming out of a socket, then the unit was already infested. If it's a multidwelling unit and the landlord is not willing to do multiple treatments -- from a bedbug specialist, not just any old exterminator* -- in ALL the units, then I agree with dhartung: if you can, move. (And be damned careful when you move to make sure you don't take a couple with you, because then the problem will be yours wherever you land.)

* If the exterminator is new to bedbug treatments, he can make things worse -- because a good deal of the stuff they lay down is in fact repellent; it can drive the bedbugs deeper into the walls, or through the walls into adjoining units, where they'll hang out and make themselves comfy until the coast is clear again in your unit, at which point they'll send some new delegates back to make second contact with you.
posted by artemisia at 5:53 PM on November 6, 2011

Sorry, this just occurred to me: aside from Vikane, thermal treatment -- if done right -- can kill every-damned-thing in the apartment, including the eggs. If the landlord were willing to do thermal for every unit in the building, that would be great. But it's really costly, so they usually drag their feet.

The unit was infested before you moved in, though, so I think you've got a good cause for breaking the lease. I'm not a lawyer, though.
posted by artemisia at 5:54 PM on November 6, 2011

If you really think the bedbugs are also hanging out elsewhere in the building (which sounds likely to me, from the blessedly little I know about bedbugs), talk to your neighbors and see if they've been having a problem. (Make sure you mention that the bugs were in the building when you came, and you did not bring them.) If your neighbors are also dealing with bugs I recommend you band together and approach the landlord as a group. Even if your neighbors don't have bedbugs, they might be interested in helping you just to keep from getting bugs. A landlord can ignore one tenant's complaints; he can't ignore ten.

We had a serious infestation of carpenter bees at an apartment I lived in once -- and I don't mean a few nice normal bumbly carpenter bees -- I mean, literally hundreds of big, unusually aggressive bees living in the unfinished wood staircases and eaves of my building, divebombing everyone who tried to get in their front door, turning the wood into Swiss cheese. We'd moved in in the wintertime so we didn't realize the extent of the problem until spring. For weeks my complaints were ignored. The only way I eventually got the complex to take action was to organize a group to complain together.
posted by BlueJae at 7:54 AM on November 7, 2011

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