FAQ: My landlord hired a PCO who comes twice a month, and we still have bed bugs

by nobugsonme on May 31, 2007 · 11 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, FAQs, pest control services

This is a common refrain. So common at the moment that I feel I need to say something. For Donniaeus in the blog comments, for Nyjammin in the forums, for the folks on the yahoo group:

If you live somewhere where the law says your landlord is responsible for treating your home for bed bugs (which is true in NYC and many other places, some of which are listed in our FAQs), your landlord is not just responsible for hiring a PCO and making an attempt at treatment. Your landlord is responsible for getting rid of the bed bugs.

This post details some of the many reasons treatment may fail, and how to get around them.

We hear from a lot of readers whose landlords hire PCOs that don’t know how to get rid of bed bugs: they use inappropriate methods or insufficient ones, or they hire someone who comes once every month (which we know is not frequent enough–since eggs hatch in 10-14 days, you really need repeats at 10-14 day intervals), or comes once or twice without abating the problem. Often they will also treat only the units that have reported a problem–they should actually have the PCOs inspect all adjacent units in a cloverleaf pattern (over, under, and on all sides). And they should treat any which show signs of bed bugs, because some tenants may not be allergic to bed bugs and may have no idea they have them.

I know bed bugs can be hard to eradicate. I know some tenants will not want treatment and will tell the landlord to piss off. But you do not have to accept the situation. You can call your city’s health department or housing department, or both. In NYC, you call 311 and report bed bugs as a housing violation. The housing inspector comes and checks if you have bed bugs (you should save and show them any samples or other evidence you can find). Very few people in NYC call 311 to file a report, relative to those with bed bugs. This is largely because many landlords will be responsive to requests for help eradicating a pest. But for those who aren’t, you have to call in the big guns.

I know some folks are afraid of doing so also because they don’t want to piss off a landlord who might give them a bad reference in future. I’ve heard of many people hiring their own PCOs for this reason. If you’re not the only one infested, though, this may not work as a long-term strategy. You might pay a PCO to get rid of the bugs, and they might come back in time.

If you know of at least one neighbor in your building that you can talk to, discuss the issue. You probably are not the only one infested with bed bugs–especially if it seems like they are not going away. Point people to our FAQs. Share information about how some people are not allergic to bed bugs, and what some other signs are (black specks or black smudges in bed, red spots or pinpricks in the sheets, cast skins that look like bugs, and bugs and eggs). Some people who are not allergic to the bites may be infested and not even know it. More tips here on how to organize tenants for action.

If your landlord’s PCO is not killing the bed bugs and you still have them after several months of treatment, then you need to press for more. They may need to use other methods: a PCO who knows more about bed bugs, treatment of more units (and all at once), and even Vikane gas treatment of the entire structure. But you don’t have to put up with bed bugs forever.

1 jessinchicago May 31, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Very well said, Nobugs. I hope people are listening.

2 willow-the-wisp June 3, 2007 at 9:58 am

A tenant on my floor with suspected bed bugs seemingly moved out on the sly yesterday, leaving some of the probably infested stuff in the room. (Since she knew I had made a complaint–I’m lucky her “Moving men” did not jump me or something–she was telling them “it was my entire fault.”
That’s just great–even if management wanted to, they could not go into the room to fumigate until legal red tape is crossed. That could take over a month. So … her neighbors may get bugs AGAIN. “And so the knee bone is connected to the willow bone” down at the end of the hall.
You know I broke out the DE again and “Did” inside my doorway afresh. The minute they finish this never ending inspection–Vaseline all around the perimeter on the inside of my door too!

3 uws apt infested... July 26, 2007 at 10:28 am

and who’s legally responsible for reimbusement for exepenses for tenant, ie… cleaning, possible removal of couches, mattress, staying in hotel cause landlord says have to be out 24 ours, plastic bags, vacumn bags, etc..???????????

4 hopelessnomo July 26, 2007 at 5:07 pm

I think you may have asked this in the forums today? I replied to you there. If you feel you need to pursue this, and assuming direct negotiation with your landlord fails, a small claim might be a possibility, but you should think about what it might mean to sue your landlord. The best thing is to consult a lawyer.

5 sickandtired October 5, 2007 at 2:47 pm

I just talked to all my neighbors today my one next door neighbor has them, and the people above and below their apartment has them. My apartment was just treated and apartly the bugs retreated from my apartment to their respective apartments. Theyre all getting bombed this weekend thus im afraid they will come back. One of my roomates just started to notice bites again and is in mass histeria. The PCO for this building is obviously not enough to get the job done. They leave the powered around the frames of all the rooms and spray alcohol and water on the beds, thus people whome have had bed bugs dont even get rid of their beds! Im afraid the cycles never going to end and want to get a better pest control but not pay because their PCO lacks the knowledge. How do I get my land lord to cover something like that?

6 nobugsonme October 5, 2007 at 3:20 pm


There are actually ways of treating beds rather than throwing them out, and most PCOs recommend this. I think that’s good because in most cases, if you throw it out, someone else in the building will bring it back in. Discarding infested items makes the problem spread further within your building. And it is not necessary to get rid of the problem, as long as the PCO and tenant know what they’re doing and properly treat and encase the mattress.

Powder, too, left around the rooms, can be very effective. I do not know which powder the PCO is using, but there are some legit ones that work very well and do need to be left out.

However, clearly, your PCO is not doing enough to explain what s/he is doing, even if it is being done properly. Tenants need to know what is being used and how it works, so they do not sabotage the efforts.

If your PCO really is using bombs, then they can act as you describe. No matter what is being used, all affected units must be treated at once with repeated visits at about 2 week intervals. Until everyone is bed bug free.

If the PCO is using bombs, you might want the landlord to read this message and more importantly, the comments that follow.

And you might want to read this.

7 nobugsonme November 28, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Updated to link to this post which explains more reasons treatment may fail, and more avenues tenants / landlords / PCOs in this situation should explore.

8 bugbitten June 17, 2009 at 11:08 am

Hi nobugsonme,

You mention in one of your post that leaving powder around the room could be effective. Is there any powder that you could recommend? I live in an “luxury” appartment complex in Morris Plains NJ.

The LL responded pretty quickly to my bedbug complaint and the PCO – Cavanaugh, came in the same week. But by that time I read enough to know that the guys were not doing the best job. They basically used bombing in the first treatment. We also started sleeping in the other bedroom – which now I realise was a mistake. After 2 treatments still have bugs. It has been more than 3 weeks since last treatment and haven’t been able to get the 3rd scheduled. Its all messed up.

I think I will have to start fresh. As a tenant can I have my LL bring the PCO of my choice?

9 nobugsonme June 17, 2009 at 1:52 pm

HI bugbitten,

My comment was a response to “sickandtired” above who listed “powder” being left in various places as a sign his/her PCO did not know what they were doing. I was emphasizing that powder per se is not a problem.

Pest Control Operators (PCOs) may use various dusts including diatomaceous earth (DE) or DE+ pesticides.

I strongly recommend that you get an experienced PCO who knows bed bugs to treat your problem. Someone with experience killing bed bugs is going to have an easier time getting rid of bed bugs, more quickly, and should be able to avoid the dangers that dust or pesticides pose.

Many people misuse or misapply DE — to the point where I almost don’t want to suggest it. If you’d like to learn more, our DE FAQ is a good place to start and should lead you to additional information sources. It includes information on which types of DE may be used for pest control, and safety precautions for applying them.

If you do choose to apply DE yourself, make sure you do your research first, and make sure your pest professional gives you the thumbs up on where you want to use it.

In your case, I’m not a lawyer and so I cannot say whether there are any legal reasons you cannot hire your own PCO and pay for them. I would suggest telling the landlord your research has suggested bug bombs spread bed bugs and are not a good idea, and that this was part of your treatment by their PCO. You might ask if you could hire your own PCO, and they would probably be happy to have someone else foot the bill.

However, it is important to note that if neighbors are infested (and they may not even know it if they are), it is hard for a PCO to treat just your unit. It can sometimes be done, and caulking and other methods can be used to help keep bed bugs from coming in, but there is no guarantee. For this reason, it may be worth trying to educate the landlord about bed bugs. If they are using a PCO who does not know what they’re doing, or they are not treating all infested units at the same time, then they may have very expensive and serious bed bug problems down the line.

10 PCO October 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm

The label is the law. Most products that are used for bedbug treatments don’t allow reapplication in 10-14 days. It usually calls for 21 days. The PCO should be able to tell you when the label allows him to retreat.


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