Lewiston Housing Authority: catch a bed bug and then we’ll help you

by nobugsonme on December 16, 2009

in bed bugs, bed bugs in public housing, landlords and tenants

The Sun Journal reports that tenant Misti Oliviera had bed bugs, but the Lewiston, Maine Housing Authority would not help her until she showed them a bed bug body (dead or alive):

“I was told there is nothing they can do until I physically catch one,” she said. “I can’t catch one. I’ve been looking and trying to catch one because I want these gone; it even says online that these suckers are so hard to catch sometimes you need a professional just to even catch one.”

Bed bugs are indeed difficult to catch.  You may be bitten for a while before ever seeing one.

It’s true that an infestation needs to be confirmed before treatment occurs.  But are tenants the best ones to search for a sample?

It wasn’t until a building maintenance worker, who was in her apartment about a week and a half ago for a different reason, saw evidence of the bugs, that the Lewiston Housing Authority scheduled an extermination appointment for her apartment.

(This is similar to the NYC Department of Education policy discussed here and here, which requires teachers to bag and send in a bed bug sample before any action is taken in their classrooms.)

Olivieri has two children; her 1 1/2 year old had a “serious infection from picking a scab left from a bed bug bite,” and had been taken to the doctor.

Jim Dowling, executive director of the Lewiston Housing Authority, confirmed that the working policy for bed bug treatment is to ask the tenant to show a bed bug body first.

“If someone reports bed bugs, but doesn’t catch one or have anything to show us, it’s very hard to know whether there are bed bugs there or not,” he said. “It saves (us) from tearing a unit apart looking for bed bugs, which can sometimes be hard to spot.”

It’s true bed bugs are hard to spot. And it can be expensive to have someone follow up on all suspected infestations.

However, not getting a professional in to search for signs of bed bugs means many tenants may go months, even years, living with bed bugs.

This is a terrible situation, and in the end, I suspect it will cost the Housing Authority or other landlords more money than they would spend if they promptly responded to suspected cases of bed bugs.  Because during that waiting period, bed bugs will spread further — both within the building, and outside it.

It’s well known that bed bugs are difficult to find; experienced PCOs tell us they take hours to locate samples.

Other housing authorities (in Milwaukee and Seattle) have invested in bed bug sniffing canines.  A well-trained dog in the hands of an experienced and talented handler can be an effective tool for locating bed bugs.

Another option for the Lewiston Housing Authority would be a set of active bed bug monitors (such as the Nightwatch), which could be deployed to apartments where bed bugs are suspected.

Bed bug inspections and active monitors are not cheap, but detecting bed bug infestations before they get out of control and spread makes it easier to get rid of bed bugs and prevent them spreading further — and this saves a lot of time, energy, and money, both for tenants and their landlords.

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