rookie landlords and bed bugs

Ten years ago my wife, children, and I moved to the inner city and became inner city landlords with great aspirations of making a difference in the community. I came prepared with degrees in Biblical studies, International Development, and Conflict Resolution. But nothing could prepare us for what assaulted our senses. We came from the suburbs and now there were three crack houses directly behind our home. The prostitutes chased me every time I went out to throw the garbage in the dumpster – what else would a middle class man want in an inner city alley? I assumed that my new university skills would be of great help but soon found that my tenants needed less education on the finer points of conflict resolution and more psychiatric help. The first tenant we moved into the apartment block turned out to be a prostitute with a scary pimp. We were like a deer frozen in the headlights. As we gained some experience in the neighbourhood we started making better decisions and things settled down. That is not to say it was easy. My wife and I both lost 20 pounds the first year due to stress.

Over the last few years I have noted other new landlords go through the same process. The apartment block next to me went through 3 owners in 6 years. The owners all started with great intentions – personally, and proudly, polishing the entrance floors and were then struck with landlord reality. The gleaming entrance once again gained a dull and worn appearance and the alley filled with bug stained mattresses. Personally I think these landlords, though they faced fewer issues with drug dealing and prostitution due to the gentrifying effect on our neighborhood, faced an even greater challenge of bed bugs. If we would have had to address bed bugs in the first year I think we would have lost 30 pounds instead of 20. And as time goes by the bed bug issue continues to grow more difficult for landlords due to increasing pesticide resistance and costs.

Over the last few months I have been receiving calls from brand new small scale landlords with their newly acquired duplexes and triplexes. They apparently heard that I could make their bed bugs go away. When I talk with some of these owners I realize they are in the same position I was in 10 years ago but with vastly greater problems – the bed bugs. The problem is that these buildings often have severe infestations which are difficult to treat, have tenants that are unable to cooperate, and unlike myself with on site ownership, address problems from a distance. The costs associated with those bugs are enormous and the finances simply can not carry those expenses. I get stressed just thinking about their predicament. I imagine the hardy ones will survive and a fair number will fall by the wayside. Some will simply ignore the bugs and become inadvertent slum lords. I can’t imagine that being very good for the soul.

I would caution would be landlords to enter the profession with eyes wide open – being a landlord is not for the faint of heart. I also suggest these landlords educate themselves on bed bugs and be prepared to do a lot of hands on work. Much of the work that needs to be done to get rid of bed bugs rests squarely with the landlord. Be prepared.

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