Kathianne Boniello of the New York Post reports today that the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue in New York City is being sued by a couple who were bitten by bed bugs there.
The article states, oddly, that
The complaint is part of a mounting bedbug trend in the city. Complaints were up 22 percent, to 5,679 through April 30, from last year, a spokesman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said. There were 4,638 complaints in fiscal year 2006.
Don’t be fooled by the wording here. The 5,679 complaints do not include people like Austin Power and Hannah Clements, bitten in the Roger Smith Hotel. They also do not include the vast majority of bed bug cases in NYC, where people self treat, hire PCOs to treat their owned units, or call their landlords to get PCOs to treat rental units. Actual complaints (in hotels plus rental housing plus co-ops and condos plus private houses) must be much, much more frequent. And we have no idea how many people encounter bed bugs in hotels.
So in that sense, this hotel lawsuit represents one of the very many bed bug experiences in NYC which is not recorded by HPD, which only keeps records on people who call the city’s information hotline (311) to complain about bed bugs in their building. Which, in my estimate, a very tiny percentage of afflicted people do. Most of us call our landlords, and most landlords at least attempt to treat the problem. So most people don’t bother with 311 (and filing a housing violation for bed bugs) unless their landlords are seriously negligent or refusing to pay for treatment.
I have yet to see the city admit what we here at Bedbugger know all too well–the vast majority of bed bug cases in NYC homes and hotels are not registering in the city’s statistics.
And until the City of New York starts to really track the spread of bed bugs, tries to actually find out how many people are really suffering from them, we will have no real idea how many people are affected. I’d hazard a guess that bed bugs had increased much more than 22% in this city since last year, and that the total number affected in NYC was many, many times that 5,679.
But in order to know for sure, the city should require PCOs to send data to the city reporting the locations of all infestations they treat. This was done in 2003 in Toronto (for a study now available via the CDC’s website), and it would allow the city to track all cases that were not self-treated. If they wanted to track purchases of products for self-treatment, I suppose that’s possible too. But if the city could simply track locations of professionally treated homes, we’d not only know the true scope of the problem, but the city might be able to help residents and landlords get information to help slow the spread, and recognize the need for treatment more quickly.
If there is one thing that would make a difference here in NYC, it would be the city government acknowledging that bed bugs are a very serious problem, and admitting to something nearer the actual numbers. Because then people suffering from bed bugs could demand monetary assistance, public education campaigns, and legislative changes which will help fight this problem. (But I can kind of see why the city would not want to encourage that…)