Here in NYC, many tenants won’t call 311, the city hotline, to report bed bugs, no matter how bad they get or how poorly the landlord is dealing with the situation. Elsewhere, people report fear of reporting their bed bug problems to building inspectors or public health, even though in most localities, landlords are responsible for treating apartments.
Why the fear? Well, one reason people have mentioned many times in the blog’s comments is that in many cities, landlords “blacklist” tenants. Although “we’re not supposed to know about it,” and its often illegal, landlords in some places can allegedly check a list to see which tenants have complained to the housing board, taken landlords to court, filed violations, or just been “a pain” generally.
Up until now, as people have escaped from bad bed bug apartments, often at great cost, their only way of warning future tenants was to post their infested address on Bed Bug City, or Bed Bug Registry, two sites that register bed bug infested rental apartments, and hotels.
Those sites are very useful and people should report their addresses to both sites. Why? Well, I saw a building next to my friend’s apartment on one site, and the building on the other side of hers on the other. Neither site was telling the whole story. And the sites are full of reports of adjacent or nearby addresses, a reminder of just how common it is for people to pick up infested stuff on the curb, and take it home. But I digress.
Now there’s another option for tenants. The playing field may be slightly leveled by apartment ratings websites, which allow users to post reviews of apartments.
Here’s an example: myhood.ca. Here, Toronto tenants can complain of problems in the properties they’ve rented, warning other tenants.
I looked at the Bed Bug Registry and found a reported address in Toronto: 321 Sherbourne St., Toronto, where someone reported having bed bugs as of 1/15/2007. (Remember, these reports are not checked, so this is just an allegation as far as we’re concerned.) Meanwhile, two apartments in this building were listed at myhood.ca (a 1BR and a 2BR). Neither had any reviews at the time of this writing.
Another example: mega-apartment complex Presidential Towers (where this Bedbugger lived for a few months, 9 years ago!) in Chicago, the focus of several bed bug lawsuits. Look at the listings on ApartmentRatings.com. Marvel at the many negative bed bug reviews, and the entry for 4/4/07, who actually had bed bugs in their unit and wants to get back in (not allergic, I guess?)
On the Bed Bug Registry, meanwhile, there’s one entry for Presidential Towers (aka 555 W. Madison, Chicago), here. Again, these are just allegations, though in this case, supported by lawsuits.
The bottom line is that these listings are not foolproof and they’re not verified (though it can be said that if landlords have a blacklist, that’s not verified either.) Tenants are consumers and renting an apartment is one of the costliest decisions one can make–especially if the hidden costs include not just “first, last, and security,” but a course of 5 bed bug treatments, or even paying money to move to a new apartment and throwing out a lot of stuff.
It would be much better if we could get away from the blame game. If bed bugs were treated like an environmental and public health problem, rather than a shameful secret tenants and landlords try to hide from one another, we’d all be better off.
The government could require PCOs to register all locations receiving treatment, and could assist those unable to pay (just as they do in other public crises, like mudslides, floods, and tornados.) It may sound extreme to treat bed bugs like a natural disaster, but the truth is, if they were addressed as such, they could be brought under greater control. Instead, they’re spreading.
And while landlords and hotels would no doubt balk at an official registry, there would be a lot less shame when everyone saw just how widespread things had become.