Bedbugs in the new apartment building
October 30, 2018 11:05 AM   Subscribe

What's a reasonable way to act in this situation?

I live in a city with a housing crisis and tenancy rates below 1%. Today is Oct 30, and I get the keys to my new apartment building in two days. I found out last night that there have been bedbugs in the building (but not in the specific unit that I'll be moving into) in the last few months.

I have previously lived in an apartment building that had bedbugs (years and years ago). I know they are terrible. But finding another place to live is not easy in this city, especially on such short notice. Staying in my current place is not an option.

The property manager in my new building doesn't seem to think this is a major problem, probably because bedbugs haven't been experienced in my unit. Apparently the unit diagonally across the hall from mine was treated four months ago. I am not sure when the other ones were treated, but the rumour is it was more recent that that. IE: the property manager's approach is potentially pushing the bugs from one unit to another without actually eradicating all of them.

My plan:
1. Move everything I own out of my current place into a storage unit. Temporarily sleep on other people's couches. Cry from stress & anger.
2. Stop by the building tonight with multiple copies of the same letter, with my name and phone number on it, asking all tenants to be in touch if they want to take a systematic approach to the problem.
3. Get a bedbug-sniffing dog to walk through my unit and the unit below mine (which is the shared laundry area, and the lowest level in the building) while my unit is empty.
4. Assuming no bugs are found in my unit, use transparent caulk to seal all gaps (plumbing, wiring, gaps between wall and floor) and put plastic plugs over electrical sockets.
5. Wait a month, with the crying and the sleeping on other people's couches. Continue to talk with neighbours. See if any more bugs appear.
6. Move in, in a month, if nothing else appears? Or move into another building and risk more of the same problems?

What is this plan missing? What else can I do to try to prevent bedbugs from entering my unit? How will I know if or when the building is bedbug-free?

I have seen this: and I know that the ideal advice is to simply not move in. But I have to live somewhere, and there's no guarantee that (a) I could find another place to live that I can afford, and (b) that such a hypothetical apartment wouldn't also have bugs or mold or whatever.
posted by monkeymonkey to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Despite the challenges in doing so, I would look for another place! Bedbugs are so difficult to eradicate from apartments once there. I'm very bedbug adverse so YMMV; I think the second best option would be to push for a full and systematic treatment of all units.
posted by DTMFA at 11:26 AM on October 30, 2018

Sleeping on other people's couches is, unfortunately, a fantastic way to contract and spread bedbugs -- this happened to at least one friend of mine. It's also incredibly stressful. I would move into the new place on schedule and sleep there: encase your mattress (and boxspring if applicable) in bedbug protectors before moving them in, and ensure that your bedframe is unappealing to bedbugs -- metal frames are best, preferably with few hiding places. Place bedbug traps on all four legs of the bedframe. Keep books and other hard-to-decontaminate possessions in sealed plastic bags prior to an inspection; if it turns up nothing, unpack. If you have couches, chairs, or other hard-to-decontaminate furniture, you could consider a storage unit, but there's no way to be sure that your storage unit is bedbug-free, either, really, so I'd just move it all straight in.

I absolutely understand your concern, but bedbugs can enter any building at any time, and no multi-unit or shared-wall housing can ever be truly safe. Even if nothing appears the first month, or the second month, something could always appear. Some neighbour (or you!) could travel, or have visitors, or have bugs hitch their way in from transit or from a workplace. It sucks, but try not to let it make you miserable in advance of an actual infestation! That's no way to live.
posted by halation at 12:02 PM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

The apartment is empty right now, with far fewer crevices to hide in, and chemicals have been applied? Four months ago? And you'll be applying some caulk later, which is good anyway to conserve heat? You'll be fine, just move right in. I had an apartment near me with bedbugs once. The management company looked around my unit pretty carefully, applied something to the corners of the rooms, and left; I never saw a bug. Halation's advice is good.
posted by Melismata at 12:24 PM on October 30, 2018

There are two kinds of apartment buildings: those that have bedbugs, and those that have bedbugs (but don't know/admit to it). Sounds like the place you're moving to is dealing with it as it's found. Halation gives good advice.

I'd maybe hold off on the letters/flyers. Some people in the building might not have or know about the bedbug situation, and it could freak them out unnecessarily. You don't want to be thought of as "the new tenant who brought the bedbugs", 'cos no-one has bedbugs until they are made aware of them.
posted by scruss at 12:48 PM on October 30, 2018

I would probably not move in. But with it empty you have a better chance of killing anything there and doing some sealing I suppose. Not sure how you can keep them out permanently if they're elsewhere in the building .. which would cause me a lot of worry. But .. if you decide to go the route of staying, One product I discovered are these "nuvan pro strips".. they were known to be somewhat effective against bbs, though i wouldnt recommend putting them out in the open and cohabitating with them (the strips) too much, they gave me a bit of a headache.. but they were a useful tool, might be worth a google.. I used them in closets and enclosed spaces (eg a box or sealed contractor bag) to treat individual items, and I used them to treat a room that was uninhabited. This was all 8 years ago, so maybe the evil creatures have evolved a defense to these strips by now, I dont know. To treat a whole building there are very few effective options. A dow chemical called vikane, a fumigant, that requieres tenting the whole building, is also effective, but in some municipalities treatment by this method is not possible. There was an entimologist from va tech that did a lot of studies comparing efficacy of various methods .. Vikane and heat treatment won.
posted by elgee at 12:51 PM on October 30, 2018

as long as the whole building isn't fumigated, you're right, spot treating is just pushing them from one unit to the next.

Forearmed is some comfort, though. Before you move in you can seal up pretty much every crack but the electric sockets and the vents. The electric sockets can be blocked with childproofing covers. I suppose you could cover your vents, if it's not central heating, and use space heaters instead. I don't know how you could seal up the front door, though.

As far as what's in your place, as halation said above you can put bedbug covers on your mattress and pillow and replace your bed with a simple metal bedstand, with each leg placed in a bedbug trap, and make sure your bedclothes don't reach the floor. You could also get sofas that sit on similar metal feet... but my first instinct would probably be to keep the place as sparsely furnished as possible, as against the possibility of having to jettison stuff if it did get contaminated. Things that are washable are easy; but things like upholstered furniture, and books... not so much.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:26 PM on October 30, 2018

Would anyone do the letter thing? Would anyone contact all tenants in the building (it is a low-rise, maybe 10 or 20 apartments -- I'm not sure) and try to get a united front together?
posted by monkeymonkey at 2:41 PM on October 30, 2018

I think talking to the neighbors is a great idea, but what is your ask? Organizing people is hard; everyone has different issues and strategies. Uniting is good if you can coalesce around a specific ask: Is it, we want you to fumigate the building? I'm not sure there's even good evidence that that is effective.

I'm not sure if this is good advice, but I think I agree if this were me I would at least move in partially, like your bed, with bed bug traps at the feet and a bed bug cover on the mattress. Along with one dresser and some basic clothes. Some basic kitchen and bathroom stuff. But perhaps leave the rest in storage? (Although how do you know the storage place doesn't have bed bugs?)

So sorry you're going through this, what a nightmare.
posted by latkes at 3:50 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

> I think talking to the neighbors is a great idea, but what is your ask?

Right now, it would to be to get bedbug-sniffing dogs through everyone's apartments.
posted by monkeymonkey at 3:57 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you need to move in and feel this one out for a hot second before forming a coalition and releasing dogs on the place. It's stressful, it's awful, it's revolting, I get it. But I live in some cheap-ass housing with its own set of issues, and if a new neighbor introduced themselves and then immediately tried creating this coalition to fix the place, I'd be a little.... confused and overwhelmed. It's not that I don't see the problems; I just don't have time or energy to deal with that level of commitment, especially headed by someone who just moved in and whom I barely know.

Take a deep breath, move in, and take every preventative measure possible. Talk to the neighbors, but first in a friendly get-to-know-you kind of way, and then in an inquiring way. Feel out the problem a bit more before you jump into immediate action.
posted by Amy93 at 6:11 PM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

If there were bedbugs in your building the other tenants know about it. If there were bedbugs in your building the other tenants probably know about that. So rather than posting flyers, I'd approach some of the other tenants, in person and ask them if they had any problems, and if the building has a bedbug history. But I'd also make it casual, and ask them a bunch of other questions at the same time, like if the water pressure is good, and what the general level of noise acceptance is, and where do the smokers smoke. One question to ask is if there are rat or mouse problems. If there are bedbugs and rodents, you do have a problem, as bedbugs can survive on rats and mice, so they have to get rid of all infestations.

Bed bugs are not impossible to eradicate unless there are housekeeping and hoarding problems. If you get bedbugs you will be able to get rid of them and deal with it, honest. The chief reason it is a nightmare is because of the disgust factor, followed by the shame factor. You're going through that already, but the chances are there are no bedbugs in the building at this time. Bedbug bites are a lot like mosquito bites. There is no way to be sure there are no bedbugs in the building and never, ever will be, because all it takes is someone to visit someone who has bedbugs, or take a trip and stay at a hotel, or bring new-to-them furniture or clothes in. Bed bugs become a problem if they aren't dealt with. It almost always becomes a problem, not because management doesn't do anything about it, but because they end up with a tenant with too much stuff to clean and can't get that one unit clean, and management can't be sure it's that unit, or if they do know which unit they can't prove it and get the unit satisfactorily cleaned.

One idea if you can afford it, would be to put your furniture in storage and move in with just some very basic stuff while you do this research. If you can sleep on a hard surface, don't bring your mattress and just use washable bedding. That way you don't have to impose on your friends, or risk picking up bedbugs from couch surfing. If you have to have a mattress what about picking up a really cheap foam pad, or air mattress for temporary use?

If you get bit by bedbugs it's not the end of the world. It's only somewhat itchy. There are even people who can co-exist with bedbugs without any discomfort and don't know when they get the bugs because they don't have an allergic reaction and don't itch. Bedbugs don't spread diseases. If YOU get bedbugs you can easily get rid of them in your own unit unless you don't do anything about them for week. I would honestly rather have bedbugs than an apartment neighbour who smokes in public places, such as on his balcony beside mine. It's easier to get rid of bedbugs than to give up smoking!
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:03 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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