Brooklyn Skills, Beating Bedbugs
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Usually here on Brooklyn Based we like to present you with
guides for fun-new neighborhoodsto explore, clubs to join, museums to visit. Sometimes though, we have to
get serious and recommend dentists or tips on how to
hold onto your bike.
Now we're going to tell you how to arm yourself in the war against
Earlier this spring
the Daily News reported that New York City should brace itself
for a deluge of new bedbug cases this summer.
The Wall Street Journal chimed in quoting the owner of an
extermination business who explained that the tiny bloodsuckers
reproduce more quickly in the summer. He called 80-degree
temperatures, bedbug "heaven."
We spoke with bedbug expert, Missy Henriksen, vice president of
external affairs for the National Pest Management Association
(NPMA) and she warned that bedbugs are all over the place, in hotel
rooms, clothing stores, in movie theaters, in gyms and health
clubs. "Bedbugs are hitchhikers, " she says. "They travel with us.
Anywhere where people are, bedbugs will be found."
Yikes. So what to do if you're not willing to add "bloodmeal" to
your job description? Plenty. The great city of New York has a
number of public health protections in place designed to help you
through bedbug hell, pest management companies are getting better
at treating infestations and there are more options than ever for
getting rid of them.
How Will You Know?
Bedbug bites affect each person differently. If you share your bed,
one person tends to get bitten more often than the other, and
reactions can vary wildly. Some bites are small, others bigger than
a quarter. They are often in a straight line or in clusters of
three. "In our industry we call that breakfast, lunch and dinner,"
says Henriksen. The bites and itchiness tend to persist longer than
a mosquito bite would.
Also, if someone in your building, especially in a unit above,
below or to the side has them, be extra vigilant. Watch for weird
bites and inspect your mattress and box spring for bugs and tiny
red-brown spots from their excrement, called "bedbug dirt" in the
Get an Expert Opinion
Most legitimate companies will do an inspection for free. If you
suspect bedbugs, call a pest management professional as soon as
possible. The quicker you act the smaller the problem and the
easier the treatment.
"I'd direct people to a
website launched by the City and City Council earlier this year
that provides information on how to recognize, prevent, and treat
bedbug infestations," says Eric Bederman, press secretary for
the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. "Having
access to accurate information and educating yourself before being
confronted with an infestation really is the first and best line of
defense for tenants and landlords. That being said, if a tenant
does have a bedbug infestation and the landlord does not take steps
to address the problem, they should call 311 to report the matter
Your Landlord is Required to Exterminate
That's right, your landlord is responsible for exterminating
bedbugs, along with roaches, rats, mice and other vermin. Which is
makes being a renter even more appealing-it's not uncommon for the
extermination bill to exceed $1000.
From the Department of Health website: "For tenants in New York,
the right to a bedbug-free environment is included in New York
and Maintenance Code, Subchapter 2, Article 4, which
specifically names bedbugs in the list of insects the landlord is
legally obligated to eradicate."
What does that actually mean? You can't just call up the
exterminator and then send your landlord the bill. You have to go
through the landlord first. They have to 30 days to act, and they
have the right to hire the exterminator of their choosing. Most
likely your landlord or property manager already has a pest control
company they know and trust.
In the event that your landlord refuses to act or tries to do
the work himself without hiring experts, then you can file a
complaint with Department of Housing and Preservation by calling
311. HPD will follow up with an inspection and can slap
non-compliant building owners (of multi-family buildings with three
or more units, no commercial buildings and no pubic housing) with a
violation, which comes along with a court date and potential
If you own your own place, well, you'll want to pay close
attention to prevention strategies and pay close attention to who
you hire to address the problem.
Finding a Good Exterminator
If you own your home and you're looking for an exterminator,
this handy PDF to help you choose the right company. Stuart
Aust, president of Bug Doctor, a
pest management company that serves all five boroughs, says, "I
would recommend choosing someone who is a member of the NPMA. You
want a reputable company, somebody that has credentials. Look for
the Quality Pro designation-only about 350-400 companies across
U.S. have it and it requires everything from training to background
checks, to physicals for workers."
You also want a company with licensed workers that is registered
with the state and you can check on the company you want to hire
(or that your landlord has hired) by calling (718) 482-4994 or visiting the New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation.
Do Your Part
Before the exterminator comes to treat your apartment there's a lot
of prep work that has to happen. A lot.
Your pest control company will give you a detailed sheet
describing the work. Be prepared to put everything you own into
trash bags and live out of those bags for several weeks-or even
months. All the clothing out of drawers and closets, all furniture
pulled away from the walls, all clutter removed. You will also have
to put all your clothes and bedding in the dryer on high for at
least 30 minutes and then seal them in bags. "It's very labor
intensive-similar to lice," says Henriksen.
Aust says that roommate situations can exacerbate the problem if
not everyone is on board to clean, declutter and comply. "The key
thing is getting prepared," he says. "Everybody's got to do their
part. If someone is not, then you give them the information and you
say 'Hey, this what needs to be done.'"
Failing that, you there are companies you can hire to clean and
prep for you. Aust speaks highly ofPrep4Bedbugs, saying
that it can mean the difference between eliminating an infestation
and just beating it back.
Having Bedbugs Does Not Make You Dirty…But They Do Love
Bedbugs are not attracted to trash or filth or dirt-they are
attracted to you and your delicious blood. Think of them as tiny
vampires that don't burn up, or sparkle for that matter, in the
sunlight. "Bedbugs are an equal opportunity pest," says Hendrikson.
"It does not does not mean a home is dirty or unkempt." Aust
mentioned a recent case in which someone who was a hoarder called
Bug Doctors for help with bedbugs. "They had so much stuff-makes it
tough to treat," he says. Think of it as an opportunity to purge
without having to have a stoop sale or make a million trips to the
What to Expect
There are many different treatments these days, including freezing,
heating and dog detection. Aust mentioned that there are lower-dose
pesticides as well. Still, a person who comes and inspects and then
sprays with pesticide is the standard, and the management company
will want to come at least twice and likely three times-during
which all your belonging must remained bagged. For green and
organic methods you may need even more applications over a longer
period of time. A good company will offer several options and will
talk them over with you.
The Mattress Question
Should you throw your mattress out? No, not yet. Listen to your
exterminator on this one, but basically here's how it works: Bed
bugs are in your mattress. If you go dragging it through your
apartment and building you might spread them around. You can either
buy a cheap mattress encasement-covers that don't let bugs in or
out-and then buy a new mattress once you've been declared bedbug
free. Or, get a nicer cover (about $75 for the mattress, less for
the box spring) and live with the knowledge that there are bedbug
bodies inside. You'll get a new mattress eventually.
Not All is Lost
As bedbugs become more common, pesticides are becoming better at
treating them. The standard recommendation for things like books
and papers, places bedbugs like to live but that can't be thrown in
the dryer to kill the bugs and eggs, was to bag and store them for
two years. Now you can put them in a heavy duty trash bag, insert a
pest control strip to kill anything that crawls or hatches, then
seal it for three to five days (or a week if you're paranoid). Two
common brands are
Hot Shot and Nuvan
Pro-strips. Order through Amazon if you can't get them
otherwise; not all sites will ship to NY residents.
Exterminators are also getting better at bedbug management all
the time. The resurgence took them by surprise as much as the rest
of us. "I'm in the industry over 20 years," says Aust. "Back the
clock up 10 to 15 years ago and we'd probably get 3 to 5 bedbug
calls in year. Now on a slow day we get 3 to 5 calls, and more
like 8 or 10 calls some days. We've gotten better at it, our
industry has really taken the bull by the horns."
For bed bug prevention tips and more info (pics, too if you can
stomach it), check these resources:
Bedbugs, National Pest Management Association
Bedbugs guide, NYC Department of Health and Mental
PlanNYC bedbugs tracking
portal (where the map above came from)
and homeowners fact sheet, Metropolitan Council on
Registry, Bedbug reports for NYC and beyond
Another tidbit worth knowing: If you are renting an apartment in
New York City you can request the bedbug history of the unit and
the building for the past year. The landlord must complete
this form at your request.