Bed Bugs Abatement a Growing Challenge for Landlords, Cities, Insurers
Claims Journal (Part 1)
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
An alarming invasion of bed bugs in homes, hotels, schools,
hospitals and other facilities has led to a renewed call for
lifting of a government ban on a pesticide once used to combat the
bugs and moves in several states to require property/casualty
insurers to cover the costs of clean-up.
The resurgence of the critters has also prompted renewed
research into the best treatment and prevention methods.
Though around for centuries, by the mid-1900s bed bugs were
almost completely eradicated in the U.S. due to a variety of pest
control products used to treat infestations. Some now question
whether this latest bed bug tipping point can be contained.
According to Missy Henriksen, vice president of the National
Pest Management Association (NMPA), there are a variety of reasons
for the dramatic increase in bed bugs, including increased travel
and mobility of society. Other factors include changes in pest
control, resistance towards pesticides, and changes in the
pesticide application process.
The NPMA and the University of Kentucky studied what has been
done on bed bugs to date. Released last summer, this study found
that 95 percent of pest management professionals reported treating
bed bugs in the past year. In 2000, that figure was below 25
"We also found as part of that, that bed bugs certainly aren't
just in beds any longer," said Henriksen. "We've seen news stories
that indicate that as well. Bed bugs are being found now in
schools, in movie theaters, in office buildings, in hospitals and
medical facilities, they are being found in cars. Anywhere where
people are, you will find bedbugs. Bed bugs need people for their
very survival. They are hitchhikers and they will travel with
people on their belongings and take up residence in new
They are also in municipal buildings. Firefighters in Des
Moines, Iowa last month called in a bed bug-sniffing dog that found
bugs in an office, on two chairs, on stools and on four mattresses
at Station No. 4. The firefighters, who eat and sleep at the
station during their 24-hour shifts, said they worried about
accidentally taking some of the little pests home.
Last month, a two-family Ohio house was destroyed when a heater
being used to kill bed bugs set a carpet on fire, according to
officials. The exterminator blamed an equipment malfunction for the
The fire renewed a controversy over the use of a pesticide,
Propoxur, which has been successful in treating bed bugs. The
product was taken off the market in 2006 by the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) because of health risks, including nausea
and vomiting experienced during exposure to the product. The EPA
says it is a danger to children's nervous systems.
At a press conference in Ohio, Republican U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt
and Democratic state Rep. Dale Mallor called on the EPA to solve
the growing problem of bed bugs and allow Propoxur back on the
"The loss of this home, in my opinion, is the result of the
EPA's inaction to approve of a product that is effective at
controlling the bedbugs," Schmidt said.
Oho officials have twice requested an exemption for the state
from the federal ban on Propoxur, but the EPA has thus far refused
to grant the exemption.
Bed Bug Legislation
To address the issue, the federal government convened the second
annual National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, D.C. in February.
Part of the agenda included what states and cities are doing to
control the problem and the effective use of heat and non-chemical
Eleven states are considering bed bug legislation this year. New
York and Maine adopted bed bug related laws last year. New York
requires insurers that underwrite property/casualty policies in the
state to cover costs associated with bed bug infestations.
Maine's bed bug law requires a landlord to inspect a unit for
bed bugs within five days of being notified by a tenant of an
infestation possibility. Within 10 days of determining an
infestation is present, the landlord must contact a pest control
agent and take reasonable measures to treat the infestation. The
pest control agent must carry liability insurance that is current
and effective at time of treatment.
In addition, before a unit can be rented, a landlord has to
disclose whether a unit is currently infested with or treated for
bed bugs. The landlord has to provide, if requested, information as
to when the unit or adjacent units were last inspected for and
found to be free of bed bugs.
South Carolina enacted the Bed Bug Prevention and Sanitation Act
and Hawaii added a bed bug question to the state's real estate
Larger municipalities such as Detroit, San Francisco and New
York City are also reviewing the issue.