Those mysterious secretions, those unsightly brownish streaks on the sheets, evidence that something happened during the night, but what? Blood? But then I can’t make out any cuts on my body that would account for it. Stigmata must be ruled out. This happens every morning for maybe a week. Then the culprits reveal themselves. Bugs, some small, some minute, slow-moving. I’ve heard about bedbugs, read about the panic and anxiety they stir, but that was years ago when stories in the papers made them sound like the coming of the plague. Incoming college students warned not to scavenge for cast-off furniture for their dorm rooms. Never know whether bedbugs will be lurking in a couch or a desk. People steering clear of movie theaters because of rumors that people have picked them up from seats. No place is safe, even pricey midtown hotel rooms. Guests advised never to put their luggage on the beds. But the idea that I would ever be invaded never occurred to me – roaches yes, a lone mouse, but these were easily dispatched. All the same, I didn’t think that this was a calamitous situation, one that I couldn’t somehow handle on my own. Stories sound hyped up. Couldn’t be as bad as they say. Cross the street. Inspect what’s on hand at RiteAid. Study the labels on bug sprays. I choose a pesticide that comes with a claim that it’s effective on fleas, bedbugs and other assorted vermin. Warning label not terribly alarming. No children to keep it away from. Go back home, spray. Bugs don’t like it, but it’s not as if they’re dropping in their tracks, either. Dubious about the capacity of the pesticide to put an end to the infestation. Strip bed. Subject sheets teeming with bugs to hot water. Throw out sheets. Realize that the stains are my blood recycled through the bugs. My arms erupt in little red bumps, itch. It occurs to me that I’m no match for the bugs. Email management. Are you sure it’s bedbugs? Nancy asks. She’s not someone from whose lips sympathy easily flows, but I doubt that she would be in her position if she was. Sympathy not in the job description. Not sure my bugs are bedbugs, I tell her, I’m no entomologist. But I have my suspicions. What else would they be? An exterminator is dispatched. Takes one look. Yeah, he says, you’ve got bedbugs. Well, thanks for that. He closes the door, fogs the place, then announces that he will have to come back in a week to complete the eradication. Later I learn that fogging is counterproductive. All it does is cause the bugs to go into hiding. Why did he go ahead then? He was being paid to do something is my guess.
What’s that on your shirt? Alicia asks. She’s a friend, often stops by. I look. It’s a bug. I try to make light of it. She’s unconcerned. Bedbugs as menace haven’t impinged on her consciousness. So she continues nap on my bed from time to time. Turns out not to be a good idea under the circumstances. A week or so afterwards, she admits that she’s been bitten, suspects she unwittingly brought some bugs home with her. (No one would wittingly bring home these things.) But she isn’t really upset, which is surprising. Neither is her husband who apparently isn’t too upset, either, and simply bombs the bedroom in the belief that he can solve the problem on his own. Bites or not, Alicia continues to stop by.
An email from Jeanine who lives directly below me. A therapist in her seventies, she specializes in children. She admits that she also has a bedbug problem. Doesn’t know I already have one. It’s strangely reassuring to find out that I’m not going through this alone. But she delays in getting in touch with management. Meanwhile, management has chosen another exterminating company – Green Earth. Bedbugs are their thing. You’ll have to prep for them, management says. I think in terms of removing the mattress, pushing some furniture out of the way. That’s not what they mean by prep at all. They email me a document called “Preparation Guide for Bed Bug Removal Services.” Prep, it turns out, means upending your life. Here’s what the guide tells you to do: “Completely empty all clothing and non-clothing closets throughout the entire home. All nightstands, dressers, armoires, under bed storage, chests, etc. Storage chests, bookcases, entertainment centers, china cabinets, etc. Desks, filing cabinets, magazine racks, shelves, curios, coffee/end tables, etc.” And that’s just for a start. Instructions are provided for vacuuming, bagging, disposal, etc. In other words, you’re supposed to do everything you would do (and more) if you were moving out, but you’re not moving anywhere.
This guide is accompanied by a document entitled “Over 201 Things to Know about Bedbugs.” I didn’t want to know one thing about bedbugs, let alone over 201.
This is No. 3:
Bed bugs can last a long time without feeding. Some references indicate bed bugs can survive about one year without feeding under ideal conditions. Of course we are dealing with live entities and longevity is based upon local conditions. As such, your mileage may vary.
Here’s No. 8:
We found that adult bed bug “ground speed” on smooth poster board is from about three to four feet per minute. This means that a determined bed bug, if a bed bug can be characterized as “determined”, can cover a significant distance, up to twenty feet in just five minutes, if need be to seek out a host while we’re sleeping.
And No. 21:
Immature bed bugs maintain their reddish color for as long as they have remnants of their blood meal within their gut. As the blood meal is digested over time they become more and more translucent again.
What’s required is so daunting that the idea of doing the preparation myself seems impossible. Look around. It’s a New York City apartment. Full of stuff. Hundreds of books. Should have tossed most of them away long ago, but still…Not surprisingly, businesses have sprung up to deal with just such a situation. Call Tiffany at Prep4Bedbugs, advises Chelsea who’s the bafflingly chipper voice of Green Earth. That’s what I do. Set up an appointment. They will bag and crate and vacuum, and treat clothes and papers with heat using what’s called a tight pack (110 degrees plus is supposed to kill off any bugs). A few days later, Darius and his crew of two arrive. Very friendly and efficient. Provide me with a plastic crate to store important papers and valuables. Everything else will be sealed. This process takes nearly eight hours. Along the way, Darius asks if I want to try to save the mattress. It’s full of blood and bedbug feces. It takes no time at all to decide. He’ll wrap it up, make sure disposal is done safely. (Even throwing something away that might be contaminated is a procedure.) So I trundle off to the nearest Mattress Firm store on 17th Street. Try lying on several mattresses. Select one that seems comfortable enough so long as I’m not being attacked by bedbugs creeping out of the walls. Set a date a month off for delivery. Turns out I’m too overoptimistic. Cost of new mattress: $1100. Another $100 for the cover. Cost of prep: $1700. Bedbugs are good for business. They drive commerce.
Jeanine isn’t pepping. Claims she can’t afford it. She can afford it. She just doesn’t want to pay for it. Ivan in 2RN is furious. He fires off emails to management and various city agencies, pointing out that Jeanine’s inaction is threatening everyone in the building. Ivan has been in the building for decades, longer than I have. If Ichabod Crane wasn’t already a fictional character Ivan would play him in the movies. He has the looks of a scarecrow on the warpath. His wife, Brittany, is a terror. There’s a story that she was once a Las Vegas showgirl. Did Ivan find her in Vegas? Not sure. They have a three-year old daughter named Ellie. She’s cute but to hear Maggie, her neighbor, she’s a budding sociopath, accusing her parents of beating her though there’s no reason to believe her. You can hear her screams from two floors up. But in public, everyone dotes on her. Trish makes a big show of indignation. Anything untoward happens in the building, her child’s life is at risk. Maggie says that Ivan and Brittany don’t believe in getting their girl vaccinated. So I guess it all comes down to what your definition of risk is.
This building, one of half a dozen owned by the company on a desirable block in a desirable and increasingly expensive neighborhood, is a converted tenement, dating back to the 1890s. Usually I can’t complain: heat is reliable, hallways are regularly cleaned, plumbing problems dealt with quickly. But there are holes, fissures, cracks, lots of places that a bedbug on the move can exploit to its advantage. Later, it develops that the company’s building around the corner is also infested. Then there are rumors that the building next door is as well. Does that mean that the infestation occurred simultaneously in three buildings or is it possible that with only brick walls separating them, the bugs have traveled from one to another, settling down whenever it suits them and there are enough bodies around to milk.
Faced with Jeanine’s resistance and eager to take action, management reluctantly agrees to pay for her prep, but makes it clear that she’s a one-off. When I ask why I haven’t received compensation for what I’ve already laid out, Nancy informs me that the company’s policy is not to pay for anything apart from the extermination itself. So I’ve been penalized for doing what I was asked to. Nonetheless, Jeanine and I are now in regular communication, exchanging bedbug sightings. Jeanine reports finding one in her bathtub and another in the kitchen though Green Earth has stated uncategorically that they don’t treat either kitchens or bathrooms evidently because bedbugs aren’t supposed to inhabit these places. Unlike ants or roaches, they don’t seem interested in food unless it comes from human veins. That is why Stephan the super says that the apartment occupied by Martha Lewis who lives directly across from mine is ‘clean.’ Martha hasn’t been there all summer long – before the infestation began. (While she occasionally phones Ivan or Stephan, she never says where she’s gone or why she’s been away so long and is cagey about when she’ll be back.) No human presence, no bedbugs. That’s the theory anyway. But couldn’t they be hiding out?
Adults of the common bed bug are reddish to dark brown in color with flattened bodies. They are about the size of an apple seed, ¼” tall. They cannot fly but they can run very quickly. The white eggs are small enough to be hard to see glued in seams and cracks. The newly hatched nymphs look like walking poppy seeds.
Steps to Stop Bed Bugs in Multi-Unit Housing
A friend says that he watched a program in which experts on the subject agreed that bedbugs fill no obviously necessary ecological niche nor could they think of any evolutionary purpose they might serve. (They included ticks in this category too.) I’ve read articles in which scientists argue over whether mosquitoes, for all the illness they’re responsible for, should be eradicated because the disappearance of the species might inadvertently have unforeseen and unwelcome consequences. But no one I know of has ever made the case that the environment might be inimically altered if bedbugs were wiped off the face of the planet.
Maggie and Alison move out. Except for the bed, they’re putting everything in storage. Alison is already at their place in Minnesota (where they both grew up and met each other). Maggie has only come back for a few days to supervise the move. She is aghast to discover that her wall cabinets were removed by Ivan without permission. She demands to know what possessed him to take them. Ivan apologizes and says he’ll return them without, however, offering any explanation as to what possessed him to take them to begin with. Maggie says that they’ll be back once the storm has passed.
A few weeks later, Ivan is packing up. He plans to put as much as he can into storage. He’s not going anywhere, he insists, but he accepts as inevitable the likelihood of an infestation so better safe than sorry. He takes no assurance from a canine inspection that found no bedbugs in his apartment. He assumes that sooner or later, they’ll attack. Don’t get complacent. Keep everything bagged up. It’s like a horror flick. The monster is only temporarily vanquished. It’ll be back sooner or later. Maybe it never left.
Now I’m surrounded by green plastic crates and transparent contractor bags. What’s where? I have no idea. I’m sleeping on a mattress pad on the floor. I pack away the bedding in a bag every morning. I keep clothes, underwear and socks that I’m going to wear in one bag and my laundry in another. Things are arranged (if that’s the word for it) so that I can get from my desk to the bathroom and the kitchen. To use the shower I need to move a pile of crates out of the way.
Bad news: Green Earth won’t treat my apartment for another two weeks – 30 days after the exterminator fogged the bedroom – on the grounds that the earlier pesticide might neutralize the one that they intend to use. They are adamant: 30 days, no exceptions. Even pleas from management are unavailing. This means that the process is likely to extend through much of the summer. Two treatments a week apart will be necessary before I can unpack.
What are the signs of infestation by bed bugs?
-Red, welt-like bites that itch usually appearing in lines or clusters
-Live bed bugs, eggs, molted skins, and dark brown or rusty spots (feces) on the bedding, mattress and box springs beginning at the head of the bed and then outward to include all furniture particularly sofas, carpeting, drapes, picture frames, baseboards, electric outlets and electronic equipment.
Steps to Stop Bed Bugs in Multi-Unit Housing
But maybe unpacking won’t ever be possible at least not if I take the long view. Karen, for her part, says that she’s been living out of bags. She has a big welt on her leg and her son Simon also seems to have an allergy to the creatures though her husband and daughter seem to have escaped the worst. They use sleeping bags. Karen is reluctant to enter her bedroom despite the fact that the bedroom takes up nearly half of the apartment. We’re living in a slum, she says, but it’s a price she seems willing to pay so that they can live in the West Village.
I go off to Spain for a week. When I return, the mess is, if anything, worse than when I left. The residue of the treatment – a white powder that looks like spilled flour and gives off a suspicious, faintly toxic scent – is scattered over the floor with a sprinkling on the furniture. No sense trying to wipe it up since the exterminators are due back in a week to conduct the second treatment. Move into an Air B&B, conveniently located a couple of blocks away. My home away from home costs $1400 for the week while I’m paying rent on an apartment I can’t live in. The day before the next treatment I leave again this time for Edinburgh.
Bed bugs eat only blood. The common bed bug prefers to feed on humans, but can feed on a wide range of warm-blooded animals including household pets….After feeding, they will not take another blood meal for about 1week. Adults can live more than a year without a blood meal.
Steps to Stop Bed Bugs in Mult-Unit Housing
Is the second treatment successful? Hard to know. Green Earth says that you might see bedbugs up to fourteen days after the treatments. The toxins have driven them out of their lair and that’s why you’re seeing more of them. Expect to get bitten, they say. No consolation there. Though they recommend that clients sleep in their own beds, I hold off, postpone mattress delivery yet again. The mess seems worse now. More disruption. If I had any idea in which container or bag things were before, I don’t know now. The containers and bags have been moved, piled up in odd corners. Bottles of water have exploded in the freezer. What were they doing in the freezer? Why would anyone put them there in the first place? I’ve no way of knowing who has been in and out in my absence. You can’t sleep there, my friend Maddie says over the phone as I’m on my way in from JFK. But where can I sleep? I’m unable to secure a nearby Air B&B again. She tries to carve out some space near my desk where I can sleep on a cot. Or try to sleep anyway.
What happens is that you begin to see bedbugs in the periphery of your vision. Something suspicious is moving. A bug? Could be. But then you look and there’s nothing there. It’s the visual equivalent of an itching sensation. You itch, too. You study your skin. Is that a bedbug bite? A mosquito bite? No bite at all? Get up in the morning, study the sheets. What’s that spot? No, it’s not a bug, it’s just fuzz, it’s just a speck, it’s nothing at all.
A war of words breaks out in the building. Ivan fires off an indignant email to Martha, CCing other tenants, fulminating over her absence and taking a swipe at the other Jeanine in 4FS in the process:
Do you know your apartment is infested with bedbugs and by your absence this landlord will not treat your apartment? Every single day you are not active in rectifying the bedbug proliferation the entire apartment building can not be cleared.
We will get re-infested, every apartment. And this could go on for years. If you simply google you’ll find that I’m not making this up. We are bound to be re-infested for years. There are hundreds of infestations like this all other the city that prove if you don’t treat the building as a unit, and quickly, clearing it often takes years.
By doing nothing you are affecting the health and wellbeing of all of us. Ellie just turned 3 years old. If you want to bestow blessings on my family as you did in your email, please do your civic, active duty as a forwarding, caring participant in our small but vital eco-system and make this landlord get into your apartment.
Jeanine Silverberg was living with bedbugs for an extended length of time, the exterminator said.
I reserve the right to learn what my neighbors are doing when their neglect can harm my family. She is an example of this:
Her apartment was badly infested. She was being bitten for a lengthy time, and she did nothing to reach out. When she finally did, the infestation was verified. Management told her to prep the apartment. They are mandated to do that, and not mandated to pay for the prep.
She refused and told them they have to pay for and conduct the prep for the infestation treatment themselves. This is not unlawful, but it’s unconscionable and unethical. By her unwillingness to take responsibility by acting immediately, the bugs spread even quicker.
Because of the severity of infestation in her apt, and the heat treatment management paid for in Leslie Horvitz’s apt where the infestation began, her reluctance to prep affected the standard of living and safety of every tenant in this building by allowing the bugs to spread quicker. Jeanine told management that she would hold out for a year until they agreed to prep. Management in fact did become culpable because they are mandated to eradicate the infestation, but her deliberate stand cost the rest of us more time, more money, more frustration, lack of sleep and pain, and the bugs are still here.
It’s true the exterminator told me Leslie’s apartment may have been infested for up to a year, but he acted swiftly and cooperated by taking responsibility for his own prep when the infestation was confirmed.
Every tenant who I know who’s in harm’s way is acting as soon as they can to allow access, and take on the responsibility of prepping their apartment except Silverberg.
Where the exterminator got the idea that my apartment was possibly infested for up to a year is a mystery since I never saw a single bedbug until late in June. Hard to imagine that they were hiding out the whole time, waiting to pounce, though I can’t rule it out. And again, if the theory holds any water, Martha’s place was unaffected because she wasn’t there, and in any case Stephan the super insists that a canine inspection by Green Earth has turned up no evidence of bedbugs so why all the fuss?
In any case, the plea has no effect. Martha has no intention of coming back any time soon, and why should she if she has no reason to think she has any bedbugs to begin with? Of course, Jeanine is pissed off by Ivan’s accusation that she’s the one to blame for the spread of the bedbugs (from which Ivan has so far been spared).
She fires off a response by email:
I'm happy to say that the worrisome bedbug situation has been addressed and this is not the time to blame anyone since obviously no one intentionally created this infestation. I also want to make it clear that I did not delay in notifying TEI and did so as soon as soon as I identified the cause of my bites. It is irrelevant how I arranged for preparation or whether or not I paid for it; all that matters is that the prep was done in a timely manner and that there was no unnecessary delay in making sure it was done.
This is beginning to seem like a plague – like AIDS or Ebola – where people panic and look for others to scapegoat for its spread – gays, Haitians, Africans – and then stigmatize them.
Stephan isn’t worried. He projects an air of studious nonchalance. Yes, it’s true, the building around the corner where he lives has suffered an infestation in recent weeks. His own apartment has been invaded three times in the years he’s lived there. But he seems to have acclimated to them the way other people get used to a leaky faucet or a car alarm. They don’t bite him, he says. The bugs we have to worry about are inside us, he says, meaning viruses and pathogenic bacteria.
Rose, Jeanine’s housekeeper, refuses to do more than a cursory cleaning in my apartment until she has room to move. I call Tiffany at Prep4Bedbugs. It’s OK to come and unpack everything, I say, thinking that the threat has passed. Darius returns with his crew – a different man and woman – and they proceed to put things back in closets and back on shelves, relying on code numbers on the green crates which indicate where their contents are supposed to go. That done., I call up Rose and ask her to do a thorough cleaning. She has a keen eye. She spots bedbugs – the adult engorged ones and the smaller transparent ones and even the tiny bedbug eggs. You’ve got to pop their shells, she says with sinister glee. She finds some buried in the pillowcases and another on a stack of towels in the kitchen. She tells Jeanine. Jeanine calls management. They authorize another canine inspection.
The exterminator arrives holding a cage with a small black beagle. Before he lets the dog out, he scans the doorway connecting the kitchen to the living room. Uses a flashlight. Look, do you see? He sounds like Torquemada. I look. There are two small bugs crawling up the lintel. My heart sinks. Now it’s the beagle’s turn. It pauses in front of the bed, sniffs. More bad news. Torquemada takes a look at the sheets. How long have you had these sheets? Seeing the brownish stains, he shakes his head. You have a big problem, he says.
Chelsea calls an hour later. You’ll need another treatment, she says. This will entail another prep. I protest. Just put everything back on the assumption that I was in the clear. I’ll pass your concerns on to management, she says. She’s like a parent at the end of her patience, trying to placate a child throwing a tantrum. This is clearly a woman used to dealing with irate customers. I hear from management a little later. The treatment is mandatory. And no, just treating the bedroom won’t work, the whole apartment has to be stripped bare. Same with Jeanine. Her apartment, too, has tested positive.
The prospect of going through the prep all over again – and paying another $2300 – calls for some kind of action, stalling tactics at the very least. Our stance meets with a stern rebuke from management:
Hi Leslie -
I left you a voicemail in reference to the bedbug situation - I am not in the office today - please be advised that after conversations with Green Earth, in order to properly treat your apartment for bed bugs, a full treatment is required, which means that you will need to properly prep. As landlords we are responsible to ensure that this treatment is done. We do not introduce these bugs but are required to properly treat when there are issues. You as the tenant are responsible for the prep. I understand it is an inconvenience but must be done to protect the property and all residents. Failure to do so will leave us no alternative but to seek legal action. The situation not only affects you but affects your neighbors. We rely on the experts on how to address the matter and they have advised that full treatment which will be through their warranty service is necessary. If it is prolonged and not done within the warranty period we will seek reimbursement for the treatment as well. These are bugs which move, spread and multiply. Your proposed plan will not suffice. Please respond to this email as soon as possible
Legal action. Words that can put dread into the heart of rent-regulated tenants. We – that is, Jeanine and I – propose an alternative. We continue to maintain that we have a handle on the situation, any surviving bedbugs we sight are on the run and not long for this earth. At least that’s our hope. Jeanine points out that the bedbugs early in the infestation were healthy and swollen with blood – our blood. The ones we’ve spotted more recently are smaller, more translucent, not very quick on the draw. Basically, they’re bedbugs that have seen better days. What if we undertake some remedial action ourselves and then have another inspection? Management is agreeable so long as we pay the $300 ($25 off for a twofer on the same day) that it costs for a technician to come with a dog and circulate through our apartments, a surveillance that takes ten minutes if that. We say yes, believing – mistakenly as it turns out – that we’ve put an end to any legal action.
Diatomaceous earth – that’s the ticket. It’s a grayish clay that comes in powdery form that is supposed to be lethal to bedbugs, fatally piercing their shells as soon as they come in contact with it. Also, Isopropyl alcohol (91%), which repels the bugs even if it doesn’t kill them outright.
To spread diatomaceous earth, a powder duster is recommended -- it spews out a little at a time. Don’t want to breathe in this stuff since it might do to your alveoli what it does to bedbugs. In addition to the alcohol, saucer-like dishes placed underneath bedposts can help. They’re called Climbup insect interceptors, the idea being that bedbugs don’t like slick, slippery surfaces and will be thwarted in their attempt to climb up to the bed although the instructions warn that the interceptors will be of no help if no human or pet is in the bed. No human, no pet, no blood meal, so what’s the point?
My friend Maddie (who’s usually good in emergencies, less so when it involves the quotidian) volunteers to spread the diatomaceous earth. When she arrives, she’s wearing a mask, a white hazmat suit and booties. She packs some of the clay in any cracks where she can see where bedbugs can infiltrate, then seals them up with tape.
Vivian in 5RN returns after the summer with her 10-year-old son. She’s been staying with a friend and her son has been living with her ex-husband for the last couple of months. According to Maggie, Vivian videotaped some bedbugs crawl out of wall sockets in her place and then emailed the clips to management when they told her that she had nothing to worry about. She says that she intends to move out in November after her lease is up. Doesn’t like the way management has dealt with the whole situation and who can blame her?
Then a surprise! Management decides to carry out a canine inspection of all apartments except those that have been treated in the last 30 days. So at least we’re spared the expense. A flier is slipped under every door with instructions about how to prepare:
“All areas to be inspected including furnishings/floors/baseboards must be free of dust and pet hairs. Please clean surfaces with warm water or vacuum only. Do not use any cleaning agents for at least (24) hours prior to your inspection as their odor of the bed bugs/bed bug eggs and affect the canine’s ability to detect them.”
This means that we must wipe up the diatomaceous earth. Simple enough. I feel like I’m cramming for a final exam. Fail and face the prospect of another season in chaos. My immediate future depends on the judgment of a beagle.
On the day of the inspection I ask Stephan to let in the inspector since I won’t be home until 10. Have breakfast. Try to keep my apprehensions at bay. Come back. Karen is coming down the stairs as I’m coming up. They just did mine, she says, I think they’re in your apartment now. Then I run into Stephan. He nods. Inspection is over. He indicates that the results are favorable.
Later in the day Nancy emails tenants:
Unless you hear back directly from Management, your unit has tested negative for bed bugs. There are still some units that will need to be tested which were inconclusive for various reasons (if items were bagged up etc.) but results were overwhelmingly negative which is good news. We will reach out directly to those units. If you have any questions, please contact the office directly.
No one contacts me. Feel I’m out of the woods.
A few days later at Starbuck’s: Max who lives on the first floor, who traded in a promising legal career for unemployment, comes up to me. He’s anxious. So far, his apartment has been spared. Although Green Earth has carried out three inspections without finding anything, Charlie isn’t reassured. He has so much stuff, lots and lots of books. The possibility that he might have to prep for a treatment scares the hell out of him. Plus he has no money. Which I suppose is actually a minus.
Mention bedbugs and people are sure to have a story of their own. Maybe they’ve never been harassed by the creatures, but they know someone who has. Korzen tells me of a friend who was so frustrated – and frightened – by an infestation that he simply abandoned his apartment and moved. Someone else he knew flew all the way from Poland in his underwear for fear of transporting bed bugs in his clothes. These stories offer little hope that I can succeed in fully eradicating the infestation. The best outcome is more likely to be a temporary cessation of hostilities, the establishment of a DMZ. One has to fight against the temptation to anthropomorphize bedbugs, to take one aside and ask it: What is it you want? The answer is quite obvious: it wants my blood.
Ivan S in 2FS – as opposed to Ivan in 2RN – has long had an infestation problem but with cockroaches and mice, not with bedbugs. He’s a grizzled teacher with respiratory problems that occasionally put him in the hospital. When two technicians arrived to treat his apartment – a preventative measure since there was no evidence of infestation – he tried to block them, saying that he hadn’t time to prepare for them and was afraid of the toxic dust which might affect his health, but they barged in nonetheless, all but forcing him to leave his apartment. Weeks later, he’s still living elsewhere – first on the Upper West Side, now in Queens – still complaining about the smell. He isn’t sure that the treatment will help, either.
Maggie and Alison still haven’t come back. Maybe they never will. Before the infestation, they’d been talking about moving – maybe to Montana. The infestation (even though they never experienced it) might have given them the push they needed to do it. And there’s still no sign of Martha even though she’d emailed Ivan to say she’d be back in mid-October.
Other tenants who’d been hunkering down, hoping for the best, discover that their apartments aren’t immune, either.
From an email forwarded by Jeanine:
I am sorry to say that after asking for a new canine inspection, bed bugs have been confirmed to be present in my apartment too (3RN). Green Earth will come out Monday to treat my apartment, but since I haven’t had any bed bugs at previous inspections, I fear that the treatments are getting the bugs to migrate round the building. Therefor I think it would be a good idea for all apartments to have new inspections over the next two weeks, so I appeal that you write management and request a new inspection.
I can’t get management to tell me whether they have an overall strategy for the building or if they are just doing symptom treatment, so I thought it would be beneficial to have joint thread here, so that we can keep each other updated and share experience and advice.
Also, does anyone know if the carpets in the hallways have been treated?
Hope we can all soon get rid of this.
An overall strategy would be welcome. Any strategy would be helpful. Maybe management has one; they’re just no telling us what it is. And to answer Tomas’ question: No, the carpets were never treated.
Now that her house has become infested and she’s discovered bedbugs in the couch in the living room where she usually sleeps, Alicia is belatedly alerted to the threat they present. She’s told her husband that she picked them up when she was visiting her friend Paula’s in South Carolina a couple of months ago. Her husband is under the impression that she was staying in a hotel when in fact she was staying at Paula’s house – one lie nestled in another. She ultimately prevailed on her husband to hire an exterminator. They didn’t require any prep and told them that only one treatment was required. Even so, she says that her life will never be the same; she will always be looking out for bedbugs. She’s even thinking of cancelling a party she’s been planning because she doesn’t want her guests to go home with bedbugs. Her heightened sense of alarm is in marked contrast to her complacent attitude throughout the summer when she expressed no fear of or even much interest in bedbugs while my apartment was rife with them. Only now – when the bedbugs seem to have been vanquished – does she leave her coat outside the door, a precaution that might have served her well two months ago.
The threat from the bedbugs may have abated, but management seems determined to pursue both Jeanine and myself regardless. A legal notice arrives in the mail from Thomas S. Fleishell & Associates: TEN DAY NOTICE TO CURE DEFAULT OF RENT-STABILIZED LEASE.
And what is the default we must cure? What “violations of substantial obligations of your tenancy…”?
Specifically, we are in violation of Article 9 of our lease because we have not taken “good care of the demised premises and are permitting damage to other apartments and common areas of the building by allowing a bed bug infestation to persist and not taking proper action or following the protocol recommended by the bed bug treatment company hired by the landlord to help mitigate or abate the infestation.”
The complaint then goes on to allege that we were advised that a treatment would take place on August 11th. (There is no mention, however, that the treatment was undertaken.)
“On September 11, 2017, a canine inspection revealed the presence of bed bugs and/or visible bed bug eggs in the bedroom on the foot of the bed.” (No mention that the technician discovered two small bugs crawling on the lintel of the door separating the office space from the kitchen which would have given added weight to their allegations.)
“On or about September 11, 2017 you advised a representative of Green Earth that you would not permit a third treatment and refused to schedule with Green Earth for that purpose.” (No mention of the exchange we had with management in which we agreed to hire Green Earth to conduct an inspection at our own expense.)
Having laid out the allegations, the notice (which helpfully includes a copy of the Green Earth guide for preparing the apartment as EXHIBIT A) goes on to assert “that bed bug infestation in your apartment constitutes a health hazard, has disturbed the comfort and quiet enjoyment of the other tenants of the building and threatens their life, health and safety. This conduct on your part exposes the landlord to civil and/or criminal liability and another tenant or tenants have demanded they be released from their lease obligations.” (“Quiet enjoyment” is a nice phrase; presumably, it doesn’t count when tenants host parties and are indulging in ‘noisy enjoyment.’ And since bedbugs aren’t known to harbor or spread any disease it’s hard to know how they could threaten anyone’s life, let alone their health or safety although a good case could be made that they can disturb a person’s sleep and peace of mind.)
What this notice fails to note is that when the infestation was at its peak early in the summer, management neglected to notify all tenants of the problem (though most tenants knew about it by that time) and more to the point, that the default we’re supposed to cure is already ‘cured’ since the apartments have all been retested and found free of bedbugs. Nonetheless, we’re supposed to respond within ten days – by Oct. 27th – and failure to cure what has already been cured will prompt the landlord to terminate our tenancy. Appended to this notice is an authorization signed by Tony Vaughan, managing agent for the company. We – that is, Jeanine and I – have a feeling that they’re covering their asses so if any tenants sue them for negligence and compensation, they can make us the scapegoats.
Karen is outraged to hear about the notice. She says the landlord has behaved reprehensibly. She and her husband and their kids are still using sleeping bags and have yet to unpack after their treatments for fear that the infestation hasn’t really been gotten under control. I don’t believe anything they tell us, she says of management.
I talk to a lawyer whom I’d previously consulted about suing for compensation (he believes that there were legitimate grounds to bring a suit). After reading a copy of the notice, he agrees to defend me and sends me a retainer agreement -- $2500 upfront.
A few days later, Jeanine and I convene in her apartment. She reads me a list of points she wants to raise with Morgan, the main one being: Is this about bedbugs or are bedbugs a pretext to evict us? We get hold of Tony Vaughan. He sounds confused. He doesn’t seem to recall the notice he signed. Probably signs many legal notices for dozens of apartments on any given day. He needs to get Nancy on the phone. She’ll be in a better position to answer our questions, he says. Nancy is surprisingly friendly or as friendly as she probably ever gets. No, no, she assures us, this notice was just an attempt to make sure that we’re free of bedbugs. Nothing to do with trying to evict us. (How could we think such a thing? She doesn’t say this, but that’s the implication.) We remind her that our apartments have tested negative. Nancy says that she thought that our tests were inconclusive. I point out that in her email letting us know about the results of the canine test mentioned that she would contact anyone who needed to be tested again, but that was two weeks previously, and neither of us were contacted. I’ll have to consult with Green Earth, she says, promising to call us back.
Two days later, Nancy emails us:
Please be advised that the recent letter that you received in reference to complying with treatment is retracted. You do not need to do anything further at this time except comply with one more inspection – date tbd. This is due to the last inspection(s) which resulted in a negative result in your apartment, which is most likely the result of the in wall treatments building wide and recent aggressive unit treatments. The normal timeframe to still see activity etc. is two weeks after the last treatment. As there were issues in your apartments after that period, and positive canine results, we were requiring proper treatment with prep of the unit. The letter was the result of not agreeing to properly prep when the unit was positive. We would require that any unit that does have an issue and tests positive receive treatment. Your units were under warranty. Should there be any further problems with bed bugs, you would be required to properly prep so that we may treat. If you see any signs, it is imperative that you call the office right away. Please do not try to self-treat or wait to call the office. We will have one last inspection in the upcoming weeks to make sure the problem has been eradicated. You must provide access for that inspection.
That’s not to say the problem cannot return as unfortunately bed bugs are more the norm in NYC in recent years and they can be brought in anywhere at any time. Again, please let us know if there are any issues so we can promptly treat.
As of the beginning of November, the date TBD is still to be determined.
Note: I’ve changed the names of the individuals mentioned in this account with the exception of Chelsea of Green Earth and Tiffany of Prep4bedbugs. With some editing to disguise their identities and the landlord, the emails I’ve quoted contain the original text.