Landlord is not taking this bedbug problem seriously.
December 30, 2018 3:45 PM   Subscribe

My landlord has been dragging his heels in taking care of this mild but persistent bed-bug and roach problem. It's been over a year. I am at my wit's end. How do I proceed?

I rent a single room in a 3 bedroom house in Virginia. On my lease is my name only, and it explicitly says that I am only responsible for the north-eastern most bedroom. One of the other rooms is currently empty (but hasn't been the entire time this has been happening), and the 3rd room is occupied, but was occupied by someone else a month ago.

Here's a timeline:
In October of 2017 I found a single bed bug, took a picture, and sent it to my landlord. He scheduled an appointment with the pest company (I do not know which company or what credentials), they came and looked over the house, and couldn't find evidence of any more bugs. They sprayed the perimeter of each room. At this point is roommate A1 and B1.

Either in December or January (this was over the phone and not email so it's a bit fuzzy) I contacted him again about bugs (now not only bedbugs but also roaches). There are no signs of infestation but I found 2 or 3 in different places in the house. The pest company reschedules 3 or 4 times in the same week. I'm getting frustrated, but eventually it gets done. They spray for both roaches and bedbugs. At this time A1 has moved out, and we have roommate A2 and B1.

February of 2018
Bugs are being found more frequently, landlord purchases about 10 over-the-counter raid "foggers" to do the house. B1 and A2 are still present. A few times a month the pest person comes to spray inside the house.

Spring comes, and the problem intensifies, there's still no sign of infestation but both I and roommate A2 frequently wake up covered in bites. B1 moves out, and shortly thereafter B2 moves in. Landlord purchase more foggers from the hardware store, and the house is fogged again. Bedbug "traps" are placed around the house, but none are fruitful. Roaches are a huge problem. I start taking things into my own hands, and begin witling down my things, laundering things on high heat and packing them in vacuum bags. A pest control person comes, says theres no infestation, but a small concentrated amount is found in A2's room.

July comes, and I contact my landlord, again, this time more sternly. I provide him articles on the internet about how serious of a problem this is. I urge him to heed the warning. Whatever is being done is not working. He has someone come to inspect the house, and this time the pest control person finally acknowledges a problem. I throw away all of my furniture. The only thing in the living room is a TV on a wire metal table, and a lawn chair. In the bedroom is a reclining lawn chair that I sleep in, and a desk. Roommates A2 and B2 are not helpful. At one point the landlord is trying to over-the-counter fog the house again, and B2 refuses to grant him access to his room. This continues the 3 month duration that B2 occupies that room. The landlord is of no help in trying to get either person to cooperate. The landlord also refuses to treat or even inspect the attic.

In september, A2 moves out, and both rooms are empty. Finally, I can solve the problem. I spend more of my own money getting bedbug spray, more vacuum bags, foggers. My house is practically empty. I fog twice in the same week, and then again the next week. around 4 weeks go by without any sighting (except for an occasional "water bug".) In October a person comes, roommate B3. I purchase a couch, and rug, and a mattress/boxspring. There is still a lot of hemming an hawing and rescheduling and avoidance from my landlord. I continue without his help.

Here we are now. In the past week I have found 3 bed bugs. Roaches are in almost every room of the house. It's all starting, all over again. I can't continue to live like this. I can't move, any place I go to will just become infested because of my things, and for a lot of other logistical reasons moving is 0% an option. I can't afford a heat treatment for the entire house on my own. I can't keep throwing away all my belongings and purchasing new ones. Metafilter I am so stressed and just at my wits end, if you've had bed bugs you know how stressful it is. constant vigilance, washing all of your laundry weekly, it raises the water bill. It's expensive and exhausting. What recourse do I have? How do I get him to just treat the house professionally? How do I get him to take this seriously? I'm angry and frustrated at all the items I've lost over this.
posted by FirstMateKate to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am really sorry this is happening!

Have you considered withholding your rent? Check what your local landlord-tenant ordinance specifies, but in some cases if the landlord isn't taking care of what they are supposed to provide, they are in violation of your lease. Not the most diplomatic way to go about it, but it seems like you'd tried to convince your landlord through reasoning and it's failed.

Just to give you a little bit more information about what I know about roaches - if you are seeing so many, it is a serious infestation. The only way to deal with it is an all-out multi-pronged attack. This means that in addition to whatever poison a bug control person would administer, you need to find where they are living in the walls or plumbing (or even worse places, like the stove), and you need to cut off their access to water by fixing leaks and plugging drains. You need to seal all food in airtight containers and keep the kitchen spotlessly clean. You can also look into remedies like diatomacious earth.
posted by mai at 4:09 PM on December 30, 2018

Okay, I can't address the bedbug problem, but I lived in the Chicago area in the 1980's and 90's and it was common knowledge to use boric acid to keep roaches away (even tho' they came in to spray twice a year).

The current product is available at Walmart, Roach Away, but we used to get it at the hardware store.

I'm sorry for what you're going through, we used to call the roaches George and Martha, and I know that's not funny, but it helped us get through it. Try the boric acid tho'.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:16 PM on December 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely boric acid powder along baseboards/edges of rooms! (Not an option if you have pets though)
posted by raccoon409 at 4:43 PM on December 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do not withhold rent without getting advice from a lawyer licensed in your state first. Even though your landlord has an obligation to provide you with a habitable place to live, you may face eviction if you withhold rent without a court order saying you can do so. I think contacting a lawyer is a good step here. If you can't afford one, contact Legal Aid in your area. This is what they do!

If for whatever reason you absolutely cannot get a lawyer, you could consider suing the landlord in small claims court for an order to fix the problem or to allow you to withhold rent (called rent abatement). Expect that the landlord will not renew your lease should you take them to court.
posted by Handstand Devil at 5:29 PM on December 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You do not ever have to throw out your furniture. Just give it a proper heat treatment as per the University of Florida's powerpoint instructions.
posted by Sophont at 8:57 PM on December 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry, I had bedbugs several years ago. It was the most miserable summer of my life, and we actually had a cooperative landlord and a relatively minor infestation. They CAN be defeated but the whole structure needs to be treated multiple times, at intervals timed to break their reproductive cycle. (You kill off the adults, but some of them have already laid eggs so you wait a bit for them to hatch and then try to kill off the next round before they have time to lay more eggs...)

You need to escalate this above your landlord. I would start by looking for a local tenant advocacy group. They should be able to advise you on which agencies might sufficiently motivate your landlord or help you figure out how to legally withhold rent to hire someone yourself.

In the meanwhile, stop using foggers! All they do is force the bugs inside the walls for a while, eventually they'll get hungry and make their way back out. (They're extra terrible in apartments because the walls are basically a bug superhighway to the rest of the building.) If your exterminator tries to use foggers for bedbugs, get a new exterminator!

Also you don't need to wash all of your stuff all the time, it's the high temperatures from drying that kills bedbugs and eggs. Your electric bill will still be ridiculous but at least you can save some water by throwing things directly in the dryer. Look around the internet for the exact time and temperature, but I think an hour on high heat will do it.

We sent out a lot of laundry to a place that knew how to handle bedbugs, and purchased a Pack-Tite for books and shoes and things (not sure if they're still available, it was definitely a fire hazard) and heat treated the bulk of our belongings once. Then all the treated stuff got immediately sealed away in jumbo 20-gallon Ziploc bags that didn't get opened until we were very very sure the bugs were gone. We still threw out lots of stuff (needed to declutter for the exterminators), but were actually able to save a fair amount this way. Once everything was sealed up, I lived out of one Ziploc bag of stuff that got tossed in the Pack-tite on the regular until we were in the clear.
posted by yeahlikethat at 2:17 PM on December 31, 2018

Response by poster: I was able to use the information from yeahlikethat, as well as from a mefite who messaged me directly, to convince my landlord to do a heat treatment. this means keeping the couch and mattress I currently have. (Which is such a relief I could cry). I was more stern than normal, and I also think he was a bit shocked to find that foggers were making the problem worse, either way it seems like he's really buckled down. We're having a heat treatment this week, followed by spray treatments, and they're bringing in sniffing dogs to see if there's a source or if they persist.

Thank you all for helping me keep a level head!
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:52 PM on January 7, 2019

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