The Dilemma of Bed Bugs in Apartment Complexes

By Chris Williams on January 15, 2016.

Most everyone in the country by now knows that bed bugs are an ongoing problem with no easy answer. Those of us who work in the pest control industry know that the most challenging part of bed bug control involves multi-family housing or apartment complexes. Not only do you have a lot of residences basically attached to each other with walls and halls that are no barrier to bed bugs, but apartment residents can also have social and economic issues that affect bed bug management.

Bed Bugs Are Often “Unseen” and Unreported 

The apartments with the most serious bed bug problems are often those whose residents don’t complain to management and therefore do not get treated. These individuals are often dealing with financial, health, employment, and sometimes communication issues and bed bugs are just not at the top of their list of concerns.

People find other reasons for not reporting bed bugs. At some apartment properties, a “blame the occupant” mentality from property managers is a strong disincentive to reporting a problem. Also, residents usually must prepare their apartments for bed bug service, a daunting task that can involve moving mattresses and dismantling bed frames, in addition to washing and bagging clothing and other items.

And it’s not always that residents simply decide not to report a bed bug problem. In one Rutgers University study, 62% of the apartment residents that were found to have bed bugs didn’t even know that they had bed bugs. At low numbers, bed bugs can be extremely difficult to find, and unfortunately, by the time you notice a bed bug infestation it often has grown to problem levels. Among the elderly especially, poor eyesight, lack of mobility, and sometimes dementia are reasons that bed bugs are not reported. In one apartment where the resident claimed not to have bed bugs, researchers counted more than 4,000 of the critters moving about. 

Complaint-Based Strategies Don’t Work

Complicating things further, the residents who complain the most about bed bugs are often those that have relatively small infestations. The fact that they then receive treatment for bed bugs is a good thing but time and money is spent putting out many small fires while the larger infernos continue to blaze, so to speak. It’s virtually impossible to control bed bugs in an apartment building if badly-infested units are never treated, or never even discovered.

So, what’s the answer? Probably a comprehensive and ongoing bed bug management program in every apartment complex that involves tenant education, routine inspection, monitoring devices, and certainly a clearer idea of where the “hot spots” are. In a California survey of 167 apartment property managers, 87% said that bed bug service at their properties was based on complaints, a concept that has been shown not to work and needs to be changed.




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