Please help me live with bedbugs
August 15, 2017 2:50 PM   Subscribe

I live in a building that has ongoing bedbug infestations. I need coping tips for living with them for the next few years. Difficulty level: single, 30's, and actively dating.

So the building I live in has chronic, ongoing bedbug infestations. The landlord did not disclose this information when I was viewing the apartment a few years ago. Because the entire building is infested and the landlords only treat individual apartments, having my unit treated only offers relief temporarily. I can't keep living out of bags and throwing my life into chaos every few months. I've given up.

Rent rates and bedbug problems in my city have skyrocketed; 99% of what I view that's within my location and price range requirements is also on the bedbug registry. I'm pretty much stuck, but if I hang in there for a couple more years I can buy a place.

I'm also single and newly active in dating. I'm afraid to bring new pals over for the night, but only going to their place is going to get weird after a while. However I'm also intensely ashamed and don't want to disclose the problem to potential lovers. In fact I worry about carrying bugs with me and infesting a paramour's apartment! I would not blame someone for not wanting to date me over this. I am in my 30s and feel like I should be able to have people over.

So how can I minimize horrible bites and property damage, and when/how do I discuss this with my dates?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can live a reasonably OK life with bedbugs if you have a light at the end of the tunnel.

Encase your mattress in a plastic cover. It will be crinkly, sorry.
Put the legs of your bed in dishes of water and grease them up with Vaseline.
Pull your bed away from the wall, don't let bedding hang to the floor.
Inspect and wash your bedding every few days.
Inspect any pictures or other hiding spots on the wall above your bed. They will breed there and jump down onto the bed (yes, really).
The heat of a dryer will kill them and destroy their eggs. It's hard on clothes, but be sure to dry on the hot setting.
Use a lidded kitchen trash can for a hamper and never leave clothes on the floor.
Sprinkle diatomaceous earth liberally under all furniture. Insecticides will sometimes drive the bugs to different areas, but they don't recognize diatomaceous earth as poison and will happily walk through it and kill themselves.

When you move, it will take you many days to pack as you inspect every inch of every possession, every page of every book and down the spine of the hardcovers. I found a single bedbug between two pages of a book that lived on a bookcase on the far side of the room (Origin of Species, ironically). Throw mothballs in each box. Once you have the moving truck packed, seal it up and set off a couple of bug bombs inside.

Fumigate your new house 2-3 weeks after you move in.
I have no advice about the dating difficulties. Only sleep with people you hate for the next couple years?
posted by Krawczak at 3:06 PM on August 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

You should move. Being on the bedbug registry doesn't necessarily mean a building has an ongoing, active infestation like your place does.

It's also possible that your city has laws that require the landlord to do more than he has. Can you email a mod and ask them to share your location?
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:07 PM on August 15, 2017 [22 favorites]

I hate to say it, but you are quite right to think that people will not want to date you if you have a recurring bedbug problem. I wouldn't. I'm really sorry!!! But bedbugs are every city-dweller's worst nightmare, and there's no way your potential love interests could feel comfortable staying over your place or even with you staying over theirs without elaborate precautions. (I know a guy whose girlfriend made him strip at the door and bag up his clothes every time...but they were already in an established relationship.)

The bedbug registry can mean as little as that one unit was treated once within a certain period. Move. But move with beaucoup precautions, as outlined above.
posted by praemunire at 3:20 PM on August 15, 2017 [12 favorites]

Quite honestly, I would suggest you move.

A bed bug infestation is hard to get rid of, especially in a building with multiple units, and it can be horrible, depending on how allergic you are. I would consider disclosing this an issue of informed consent, when inviting dates over. (And potentially even visiting them, though it is possible to be reasonably certain that you're not bringing bed bugs.)
posted by ethidda at 3:41 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ughh. I had bed bugs a few years ago and it was terrible. I lived with them off-and-on for about 9 months before moving out. (Landlord would treat my apartment, and then they would come back again.) I panicked at every bug bite for the next year, no exaggerations. I really feel for you.

So how can I minimize horrible bites and property damage...

To minimize bites, you should look into permethrin. My doctor gave me a prescription lotion that contained mostly permethrin, which did minimize the number of bites I got at night. It's probably not a great mid- or long-term solution, though.

To minimize property damage, you can seal up anything you don't use (like books) now. I put all of my books into Rubbermaid containers, sealed them with duct tape, and left them like that for 6ish months. It's an easy way to eliminate bed bugs from smaller items.

...and when/how do I discuss this with my dates?

I truly do not think there is a good way to do this. I would never date someone with an active bed bug problem (sorry). I guess one option might be to look at resources online for how people with HPV and/or HSV talk to potential sex partners about their STI, but... there is so little information about bed bug "transmission rates" that those talks may not be comparable.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:59 PM on August 15, 2017

PLEASE do not give your dates bedbugs. It is unspeakably selfish and unethical to expose others by sleeping in their homes or inviting them into yours when you are likely to have bedbugs.

They won't all have landlords who'll cover the costs, and I guarantee they can't all afford to pay for it. Insect bites leave long-lasting scars on some people's skin. Insecticides are carcinogenic and people are reasonable to want to avoid exposure.

Don't give other people your problems, please. If you feel you must expose others to this risk, please put I LIVE IN A BUILDING WITH RECURRING BEDBUGS in bold at the top of your online profile, so people like me can make an informed choice and NOPE far away from a problem I couldn't possibly afford to solve right now.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:23 PM on August 15, 2017 [27 favorites]

Extra large, washable sleep hammock suspended from ceiling. All clothes on hangers, all shoes lofted high, nothing that "travels" touching walls or ground. I'd go full minimalist, and only keep stuff in the apartment you plan on ditching as soon as you leave. However, to even try to protect your dates' things you will have to disclose...
posted by fritillary at 4:53 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rent rates and bedbug problems in my city have skyrocketed; 99% of what I view that's within my location and price range requirements is also on the bedbug registry.

Hahaaaa, I'm wondering if you live in my city...

Find one or more roommates and rent a new-build condo together. Or, rent a freshly renoed basement on your own from a private landlord (maybe one who lives there and is house-proud). Dealing with stress from other humans can be rough, but that doesn't (usually) involve as pervasively invasive a disgust as living with that kind of pest issue & related stigma.

(Maybe choose roommates with opposite work schedules to yours, or people who are super quiet and keep to themselves, or who go out all the time and aren't into entertaining at home. And/or look for a big place with space for everyone to hide out. And/or work on communication skills and develop a strict chores rota. All these options are, I think, better than bedbugs and the kinds of responses you've seen here :/ Sorry you're dealing with this.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:53 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

not laughing at you at all, that's bitter empathy - i'm still traumatized from having to murder rats. roommates > pests, even in your 30s (and up, in some places) - super common, lots of people share in cities like ours, just do it
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:00 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Please move. The next few years of this are untenable. This is bad for your dates and also for you, you do not deserve to live this ongoing nightmare for years. Saving up to buy a place isn't worth it for this.
posted by colorblock sock at 5:39 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

If by any chance you're in California, there have been some new laws recently requiring landlords to deal with bedbugs. I can't find the details easily on my phone but it is less ambiguous now than, say, 5 years ago.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:41 PM on August 15, 2017

Get a bag of diatomaceous earth. It's harmless to mammals but will kill insects. Spread it on your sheets and put it in your pillowcases. Put it other places near where bedbugs might be, like around the edges of your baseboards. Essentially the bedbugs will try to get to you but will encounter this stuff and die. Repeat for a few months, encase your mattress as advised, and move absolutely as soon as you can - your landlord is cheap and terrible and ridiculous and there's no reason to keep giving someone your money when they're subjecting you to an ongoing insect infestation that functionally prevents you from dating.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:27 PM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Landlord did not disclose bedbugs. Building is infested and Landlord has not resolved this issue. Not only move, but no BS from Landlord abut security deposit. Talk to a tenant's rights organization, you might be able to get reimbursed for moving expenses.
posted by theora55 at 7:57 PM on August 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Agree that you need to move + you could think about a lawyer... No!! Just move!! Get your life back!!

It might be worth it to write some threatening letters and withhold rent legally, so don't discount brushing up on recent housing laws... Hey! Have you called your Health Dept? CouncilPerson? Congressperson?? You might have protections already available, See if you can file complaints or receive assistance dealing with your landlord as you prepare to move.
posted by jbenben at 10:00 PM on August 15, 2017

Mod note: From the OP:
I live in Ontario, Canada if that helps for resources. Posting this question has woken me up to how unacceptable this situation is; I suppose I got desensitized to it. I'll be looking for a new apartment and following your suggestions in the meantime (and immediately informing my potential mates, come what may!). Thanks folks.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:14 AM on August 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Please please please for the love of God do not hide this from your dates. You will bring the bugs with you to their homes. They will get them from your place when they come. It is a problem that can be ruinously expensive to deal with and have major repercussions for work, family etc. Absolutely, 100% not ok to be secretive about this. You should move, leaving as much behind as you can, and heat-treating anything at all that you bring with you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:16 AM on August 16, 2017

I live in Ontario, Canada

K, yeah you are in my area, I think. As long as your management company is treating individual units, they're obeying the law, afaik.

~$1500-1700/mo is the bar for a totally pest-free life, if you're set on living on your own. Forget cute apartments in older buildings. Forget anything above a restaurant. Avoid the main streets, unless you're ok with rats - the size of actual cats, as I recently discovered in the alley behind my place. (Most definitely get a roommate to cut costs, IOW.) Best of luck!
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:36 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

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