Bed bugs and landlords
As a landlord I was utterly horrified when I received news of bed bugs in my apartment block. And the more I read about these bugs the more concerned and stressed I became. I thought bed bugs only happened to slum lords! How could this happen in my building? How was I going to rent potentially bed bug infested suites? Would my tenants abandon my building if they knew bed bugs were next door? Would potential new tenants refuse to even apply for a suite when it became known I had a case of bed bugs? What would happen to my vacancy rates? Should I lie to potential tenants and claim ignorance later? Should I hide the problem from the rest of the tenants? But if I hide the problem I am unable to educate tenants so that spread would be reduced. What should a landlord do? Rest assured these feelings of fear and shame are very real for landlords.
Fortunately I chose to be completely up front with my first case of bed bugs, took all actions to remediate the problem, and let the chips fall where they may. I provided educational material for tenants, informed new tenants that the suite they were moving into had bed bugs previously but had been treated, offered my full support to these tenants moving in to make sure the bugs were really gone, and followed through on my promises. Interestingly the tenants did not abandon my apartment block – they actually appreciated the efforts I put into protecting them!
I became an exterminator to address these bugs and discovered that my situation was not unique. It seemed all my landlord peers were addressing bed bugs. Even the best award winning landlords were calling me about their bug problems. Having been in the exterminator industry for a while now I can confidently say that a landlord that has never experienced bed bugs would be exceedingly rare.
Despite bed bugs becoming a very common pest many landlords choose to hide the issue of bed bugs from their existing and potential tenants. When potential tenants ask about bed bugs the response is often “we do not have bed bugs here!” The difficulty with this response is that the tenants are not receiving information on how to prevent bed bugs which in turn makes the problem worse. It is also difficult for a landlord to question a potential tenant on their history of bed bugs to protect their own building from tenants fleeing bed bugs elsewhere. If a person with active bed bugs moves into the building all the suites between the door and their new suite are at risk of bed bugs falling off the furniture. The result is a bed bug disaster for the building.
As such it is in the landlord’s interest to have clear policies about bed bugs – existing tenants should receive bed bug education and potential tenants should be screened for bed bugs. And when a potential tenant asks about bed bugs a ready answer should be forthcoming.
Examples of the benefits of this policy is that my building and several other prevention oriented landlords I assist have become known for having bug free buildings. Potential tenants with bed bugs have approached us and wanted to move into our buildings via the bed bug baker. And these tenants really appreciate the efforts we put into building wide prevention programs. There is a huge perceived value to this service.
What do potential tenants learn here? If a landlord says “we don’t have bed bugs” in response to bed bug questions it is time to look elsewhere. You don’t want to live in a building without a prevention program.