“The Hunt”: bed bugs in New York real estate

by nobugsonme on June 7, 2009 · 5 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs and real estate, bed bugs in apartments, new york, new york city

Remember Joyce Cohen’s New York Times column “The Hunt” — which features New York tenants searching for just the right apartment?  In 2007, two separate columns in three months described young couples ending their searches in an apartment with bed bugs.

In September 2007, it was Tabitha Shick and Benjamin Klein.  Then, in December, we heard about Jon Werberg and Helene Mattera, who moved to a semi-gut-reno on East 117th Street, with bed bugs.

Now, in the fifth anniversary “The Hunt” column, we get an update on Mattera and Werberg, who were stuck in their apartment on 117th St. for one year:

… it seemed location was the only thing their apartment had going for it. They gladly left last summer, the day their one-year lease expired.

The $1,550-a-month apartment, on East 117th Street, was badly maintained, they said. They had several bouts with bedbugs, spending a small fortune on laundry and dry cleaning.

They hoped to buy a home — doing so remains “somewhere between a goal and a dream,” Mr. Werberg said — but their priority was to get out. When they left, they took nothing upholstered.

They were relieved to return to the Bronx. They liked the Parkchester condominiums, but they wanted a dog and dogs aren’t allowed, so they found a big one-bedroom rental nearby for $1,350.

Their new superintendent “is the kind of man who dusts outdoor breezeways,” Ms. Mattera said. “He is meticulous to a T. It makes a world of difference.”

Although a meticulous, well-kept apartment has so much going for it, readers need to know that it does not mean the home will not get bed bugs, nor does it mean that the landlord will handle them properly if it does.

Cleanliness does not prevent bed bugs.

And any landlord who has not dealt with bed bugs before faces a learning curve.  Many good, meticulous landlords are not informed about how easily bed bugs spread, and how hard it is to detect them.

The truth about bed bugs is that you can clean like the Dickens and not get rid of or prevent them.

The good news is that it sounds like Mattera and Werberg are done with bed bugs.  Let’s hope they never have this problem again!

Read the update in full here: The Hunt – So Where Are They Now? – NYTimes.com.

1 Helene Mattera June 7, 2009 at 10:45 am

You’re absolutely correct. Cleanliness does not = no bed bugs. In fact someone in our very clean building is battling with bed bugs right now. The difference was the landlord’s approach. At the first sign the landlord brought in a bed bug inspector to the whole building and begun the process of extermination.

We also found out about Diatomaceous Earth which supposedly kills bugs by dehydrating their shells once ingested. Pros: you can use it as a preventative measure by lightly dusting it around your room perimeters, it is non-harmful to humans and pets(mammal pets), and it’s pretty cheap. Cons: Who knows if it actually works? We put it down when we heard about the incident in our new building. We’ll see what happens.

One last comment about cleanliness and bedbugs: make sure rodents are not running rampant in the building. Our guess about why the last building couldn’t get control over the bedbugs was that the bugs kept hitching rides around the building on the backs on mice and rats. (And the super made very little effort to stop the rodents. The owner of the building was Dawnay Day, an international slum lord who owns dozens of buildings in East Harlem generally rented through Vertical City Realty. I wouldn’t trust them AT ALL).

Thanks for keeping up with the bed bug situation. There is not enough advocacy on the issue. By now, there should be a city sponsored awareness campaign on how bed bugs spread. 311 collects data on complaint calls but more needs to be done to stop the spread. It is a huge financial burden especially on low income families living in buildings with neglectful landlords. Jon and I took a very aggressive approach washing or dry cleaning everything we owned. We considered ourselves lucky that we had the means to address the problem.

2 nobugsonme June 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm

HI Helene!

Thanks for your comment. It does sound like your new landlord is a gem — prompt response to bed bug complaints is a very good thing. I hope you don’t have to deal with them again, but it’s reassuring to know the landlord is on top of things.

Freshwater/food grade diatomaceous earth does work (though they do not ingest it, they just need to walk across it). It’s important to use it correctly and safely and our FAQ on DE may help.

Oh — and yes, the city needs to take action. New York vs. Bed Bugs is an advocacy organization which is fighting the good fight; the city will be appointing a Bed Bug Advisory Committee to decide what to do, but that appointment step is not yet complete, so as of now, we wait.

3 parakeets June 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

Even doctors believe you can avoid bedbugs by being clean. When I was refused medical treatment at a sleep study center in Boston because I had bedbugs, I posted my story on a medical feedback website. The sleep center replied to my post claiming that bedbugs were not a problem in their center because ” Rooms and linens are professionally cleaned each day. ” These are ** medical doctors ** who think “cleanliness=no bedbugs”!!

4 Blue_Ox June 10, 2009 at 12:36 am

I noticed in the article that there was that sentence “when they left, they took nothing upholstered” which seems to imply that taking along non-upholstered items from an infested apartment would be ok (though it does not explicitly say that.) I wish all the Times writers who mention bedbugs in their articles would find the time to educate themselves on bedbugger!

5 nobugsonme June 10, 2009 at 1:56 am

Thanks for catching that, Blue_Ox!

Bed bugs can, of course, infest non-upholstered items. It takes drastic steps to move with any confidence.

parakeets — Sigh… we do have a long way to go.

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