How the other 5% lives with bed bugs: Upper East Side, New York City

by nobugsonme on May 3, 2010 · 8 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, money, new york city

A new feature from New York Magazine explores the lives of tony Upper East Side residents who are afflicted with bed bugs.

View Larger Map

The article is convincing on the point that those who are well-to-do also suffer plenty from a bed bug infestation.  We knew that.

And it is somewhat persuasive on the point that, in some ways, the rich have an especially hard time, since they are more likely to be in complete denial that a bed bug infestation is possible in their often expensively maintained and serviced homes.  (Yes, even more in denial than everyone else.)

On the other hand, I’m not convinced well-to-do Upper East Side “eccentrics” with bed bugs are more of a problem to their neighbors than impoverished hoarders and shut-ins with bed bugs, though Pest Away owner Jeff Eisenberg’s stories are certainly eye-opening:

Another Eisenberg tale involves “a very, very high-end building on East 92nd. Very well known. A super called me and said, ‘We’ve got some bedbugs on a glue board.’ But that didn’t sound right to me. Bedbugs tend to avoid glue boards, so if that was the case, the whole building was probably infested. Lo and behold, the place was loaded. It turned out there was a guy living there who only left every five weeks to see a doctor. Once, he went downstairs to pay the rent and two bedbugs fell off his arm as he passed the envelope. Four staff members were standing right there and saw the whole thing, and two and a half minutes later, I get a call … That’s one way they spread: hitchhiking. You get a hundred guys like that walking around the city like Pigpen—to a movie theater, wherever—and that’s how it goes. I’d say that every third or fourth building up there has a guy like that.”

In still another Upper East Side building, Eisenberg says, a woman with 400 or so first-edition books refused to admit that she had a bedbug problem. Her apartment turned out to be so infested that the walls, floors, and ceilings had to be removed to get rid of the 100,000 or so bugs that were living there (the building eventually sued her).

Ultimately, I can’t help remembering that the rich have unique advantages over the rest of us.  They can afford treatment and related costs.  “Margaret’s” family, featured in the story, spent $30K on dry cleaning, and $70K total, in the course of their bed bug problem.

They can afford to have things destroyed and replaced where needed, with minimal disruption.

They can pick and choose pest control firms and methodologies, and can afford to get spoiled by service professionals.

They can afford to hire “help” to sleep in their beds as bait (a practice I have heard about before, but which isn’t mentioned here — perhaps because it does not inspire a lot of sympathy for the rich).  If all else fails, they can move.

As the article notes of Margaret’s son’s room after treatment:

James’s room is now pristine. Most of his toys and books were destroyed and replaced. “Everything here was sent for intensive cleaning,” Margaret says. “This is the scene of the crime.” His bed is still there—with new bedding, of course. “The old headboard,” Margaret says sharply, “was sent out to be burned.” Margaret still constantly checks pillowcases and James’s skin. She also has an exterminator in every three months to lay powder into the apartment’s cracks and crevices.

And what if none of that works? I ask her. What if she and her family faced another infestation? “If that happened again?” she asks. She takes less than two blinks to reply. “If that happened again, I would move.”

Bed bugs are never easy, and my heart goes out to anyone who has to do battle with them.  Everyone suffers, everyone loses.

However, I am not especially sympathetic to the rich, all other things being equal.  If anything makes a bout with bed bugs easier, it’s money.

1 Bebbug May 3, 2010 at 5:38 am

“They can afford to hire help to sleep in their beds as bait”

Now there is a service i may look into providing 🙂

2 truck May 3, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Glad to see more press on the issue! And this is a pretty educational one. The ABC Nightline from earlier this week didn’t hit all the points…

By the way, what ever happened to Bloombergs BB Task Force? Weren’t they suppose to announce something (findings, plan of action) in April?…

3 nobugsonme May 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm


It does seem there’s a small market for this. At least one pest
firm does offer it at least on request.

Unfortunately, some well-to-do folks have apparently required domestic workers to do this– live in the family’s infeted home while everyone decants to the weekend house. It’s worse than anything in “The Nanny Diaries,” to be sure. Hence
my comment about NYMag
not including such details which may elicit less sympathy for rich bed bug victims.

4 nobugsonme May 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm


My sources tell me the Bed Bug Advisory Board’s report is again delayed, but should be out soon.

5 Ci Lecto May 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Good article. It will reach an important audience and also help people better understand what the “state of the art” is about. The sad part of this is the unspoken part of Margaret’s final word “we’ll move”. For many who can afford to do so, this will probably mean to a single-family home (which can be fumigated at will), out of the city. Decades of efforts to reestablish urban life as a choice could come to nought over our unpreparedness to face this pest. Finally, my favorite quote:

> “Predictably enough, the citywide bedbug phenomenon has spawned a wave of exterminator chicanery. Internet predators sell bogus remedies to desperate, discretion-minded souls. Any schnook with a mutt can train it to bark, then call his cousin Larry to “exterminate” the “bugs” that the dog “found.” That scam is now widely regarded as a growth industry.”

6 nobugsonme May 3, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Thanks, CiLecto, for those two points.

You’re right about flight from the city (we lost a lot of people who fled to the suburbs after 9/11; bed bugs may drive away many more).

And yes, the snake oil comment is spot on.

7 belle May 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm

people moving out of the city will invariably spread bugs to other communities. it is in the nature of insects to move about in such a way. it’s unavoidable.

i thought i had them here in the city but confirmed recently that it was a relative upstate who has them. i actually caught an adult and a nymph overnight. the adult probably fell off of me and the nymph was crawling down my sleeve. in a few days i have gotten more than a dozen bites. i’m sure there are more that haven’t risen yet. my throat and right arm are minefields. but i got definitive proof and an exterminator came the same day to inspect. first treatment is tuesday. (my relative is blind and unable to see the bugs though they thought something was biting them.)

what’s so offensive about the situation is that a year ago my relative was informed that another tenant – in a four apartment building – had an infestation. she was informed by the dept of health, not the building management! the affected tenant was evicted for not aiding in the extermination effort. according to the super, the bugs were freely crawling on everything. everything he had was tossed out. shortly after, my relative was the only occupied apartment for a while. aka the nearest meal.

8 Lisa June 17, 2010 at 7:23 am

BED BUG AWARENESS IS STILL LACKING and gee, I happened to learn the hard way about how SERIOUS of a problem they are. A VICTIM OF BED BUG BITES IN AN ARIZONA HOTEL AND MY CLAIM FOR MEDICAL REIMBURSEMENT WAS DENIED 🙁 Oh well, it has made me feel like I was meant to be an “Ambassador of Awareness” about bed bugs as I certainly do not hesitate to share my story……….so here it is! 🙂
I was on a trip in Arizona (stayed at Aspen Hotel InnSuites in Flagstaff) this past March (2010) and got 35 bites! Not knowing what they were, I reported it to the hotel, they brought in pest control experts and sure enough, an INFESTATION of bed bugs that was found behind the headboard of the bed I’d slept in was determined to be the culprit.
Five days after the fact, the allergic reaction I was having to the bites got soooooo bad that there was an infection moving in to my bloodstream (you could see it moving right up the inside of my left arm!). I had to use prednisone and an antibiotic for a week. Gawd, prednisone is NO FUN!
Then to make things worse, I continued to get bites after checking out of the hotel which means they DID ‘HITCHHIKE’ on me/my stuff!! I even got 2 bites during the flight home, so who knows if the bug migrated off of me on to the person sitting next to me…..or if they were on my luggage did they get on other people’s luggage?!?!
When I got home, nothing came in the house unless it was heading straight for the washing machine or the shower! My suitcase was banned to the deck off the back side of the house. Oh yeah, I was also denined on my request to the insurance company for a $150 luggage replacement allowance.
I filed a claim with the hotel’s insurance company, Traveler’s Insurance, to seek medical reimbursement and was DENIED! Supposed to hear from the hotel’s general manager today on if they will AT LEAST refund me what I paid to stay at that hotel! HAVE THEY NO SENSE OF GOODWILL?!
It’s scary and also discouraging to see that as a victim of circumstances, I pretty much had no recourse. I am making a trip to NYC over labor day weekend with the international student I will be hosting and it creeps me out just to know NYC is so full of these little ‘varmits’!
Seeing how my vehicle does have towing capability, I think I will get a small camper and only make driving trips. Still not guaranteeing 100% protection but it’s a serious consideration! 😉 – Lisa

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: