The strange case of bed bugs in Bushwick

by nobugsonme on September 14, 2007 · 19 comments

in 311, bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs in apartments, brooklyn, government, housing laws, legal aspects of bed bugs, new york, usa

Welcome to Brooklyn

Originally uploaded by TheGirlsNY

Bushwick, Brooklyn is home to two large dueling loft buildings: 248 and 255 McKibbin Street. Yes, that’s right: they’re buildings so hip, fun, and now, they have their own myspace pages. (Don’t laugh, but we have one too.)

Gawker did an article today about the buildings’ problems with bed bugs, though judging from the comments there and on myspace, only the residents of 248 are claiming to have a problem with bed bugs.

The Bed Bug Registry has complaints from thirteen different tenants about the building. (For its neighbor 255 McKibbin, there are none.)

248 McKibbin also has a whole blog running on myspace about the building’s alleged bed bug epidemic. It makes for interesting reading. The residents are correct that the entire building must be treated, if the infestation is as extensive as they claim it is. There’s a reluctancy on the part of some residents to call HPD (311) and file a housing complaint, for fear they won’t get references from their landlord in future.

Such concerns abound on our forums too. I have not heard from anyone who has filed an HPD report on a landlord and who has not been able to rent after that. I do know multiple people who have “pissed landlords off” by expecting to have pest problems, leaks, etc. fixed, and whose landlords were so happy to see such “troublemakers” move on that they gave the next landlord glowing reviews!

So I think the idea is kind of an urban myth. If it happens, though, surely the tenants could clip articles about how infested their building was, and show it to future real estate brokers as evidence that they had good reason to file an HPD report. Frankly, shouldn’t the real estate brokers recognize that if HPD agrees with the tenant that their building is infested (and files said report), then the tenant should not be blacklisted in this way?

Or are we all going to end up living with bed bugs because we’re afraid our landlords will not give us a good reference when we want to move to another building with different amenities and more bed bugs? Because if everyone is afraid to demand their landlords treat the problem, we’ll all have bed bugs soon.

1 hopelessnomo September 14, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Perhaps it’s not people afraid that their landlord will not give them a reference, but afraid that their new prospective landlord will make a routine check of housing court records and find that a former landlord was sued. It is reportedly the policy of many landlords to not rent to individuals who have taken former landlords to court, without reference to the reasons, valid or not, behind such actions. This is not fair but it’s not an urban myth.

I get that it’s in our collective interest that everyone demand that bedbugs be eradicated where they live, but the so-called blacklist is probably not something that a lot of people can afford to take lightly. Most will opt to move out discreetly and, over time, the buildings where bugs are not eradicated will be known as slums, virtually created overnight.

2 hopelessnomo September 14, 2007 at 2:08 pm

And stories of people who sue their landlords and have later apartment applications denied can be found in places like craigslist (as well as landlords admitting to such a policy). I guess then the only option left is to find an apartment with a smaller landlord who may not routinely search housing court records.

3 nobugsonme September 14, 2007 at 3:16 pm


If you call 311 to file a complaint, and HPD inspects and sends the landlord a notice that they need to get rid of bed bugs, and (in the case of 248 McKibben, all your infested neighbors do the same), there should be no need to actually take the landlord to housing court.

As per this description, based on some research I did, if enough tenants call 311 and have inspections that prove bed bugs are present, the landlord will get an Order to Abate, which means they have to deal with bed bugs throughout the building.

At no time has a court been involved.

So, yes, you are probably right that landlords will check if you sued a prior landlord. But that’s not really what we’re talking about. right? I am not suggesting people sue their landlords. I am suggesting they call 311 to report a housing violation.

4 September 14, 2007 at 4:18 pm

Looks like someone has already made complaints to HPD Click here to search

5 hopelessnomo September 14, 2007 at 5:20 pm

OK, agreed, we are talking about different things. That’s because in my mind calling 311 and filing an HPD complaint is usually a prelim to filing in housing court. The city’s website itself encourages people to file in housing court:

If the building owner does not correct violation conditions, tenants may initiate legal action against the landlord in Housing Court. The Court has the authority to order the landlord to correct violations and can assess serious penalties for failure to comply.

I’m not sure if it’s because the department does not have sufficient code enforcement resources, and therefore only goes after egregious cases, or for other reasons, but buildings can and do have housing violations that go on for a long time if you check their records. It may be that in order to compel the landlord to actually correct them, legal action is necessary. I realize you wrote about a DOHMH Order to Abate and I think we would all love to hear from people who have actually gone through the process. But we have not yet seen any good reports from people who have used the HPD’s complaint and inspection system, except for that person whose landlord had an almost religious conversion on the spot.

Or maybe it’s just my habitual pessimism. I don’t see DOHMH getting involved unless the whole building is visibly crawling with bedbugs.

6 nobugsonme September 14, 2007 at 7:03 pm

HI hopelessnomo,

The link you added there to the HPD website is a good one: it suggests a course of events:

-Call 311 to report a housing violation
-HPD inspects
-HPD sends notice of violation to landlord
-Landlord given time to correct
-If landlord still does not correct,
-Tenant can initiate legal action.

The Order to Abate is probably given rarely in bed bug cases, because it’s rare for many people from one building to each call 311.

And yes, if someone has a standard bed bug case, the inspector may not see it. But if the entire building is infested, there’s a good chance the signs in many apartments will be obvious. It is also true that violations often stay on record for some time.

But I also have a hunch that some landlords don’t believe their tenants’ bed bug stories, or don’t really believe they’re liable. In such cases, it would be good to have backup.

You’re right that people should consider carefully before suing, but I don’t think people should hesitate to call 311 to report bed bugs or get their neighbors to do so.

But I am happy to hear if people have stories that dispute that!

I edited the link in your comment so it works now. As of today, 248 McKibben has one violation for bed bugs listed as of 7/28, in one apartment on the 3rd floor. 255 has none.

7 hopelessnomo September 15, 2007 at 12:25 am

I guess we are disagreeing on what calling 311 will actually accomplish. If the city cannot enforce code violations, then I think the 311 route leads inevitably to housing court with the attendant consequences for the tenant.

I know that one way at looking at this is that landlords acting in good faith will take steps to solve bedbug problems in their buildings, even if they’re the wrong steps. So, if they’re still ignorant of what it really takes and make a mess of it, or if their efforts are failing, they may still be persuaded by tenants into taking the right steps and bringing in the right PCOs. Perhaps a housing notice may prod those landlords into doing things the right way.

But if you have to assume bad faith and call 311 (and no doubt antagonize your landlord even further), then I’m not sure that a simple housing violation will do it, will intimidate such landlords into taking appropriate action, given that eradicating bedbugs requires a great deal of concerted action and cooperation from all sides and is, crucially, so very expensive.

I’m sure that calling 311 is the right thing to do in many circumstances, and especially in order to document the problem and leave a public record for others.

Like you have suggested before, there should be a system that is not antagonistic and where both landlords and tenants can get help. But first the city has to admit that there is a problem.

8 nobugsonme September 15, 2007 at 1:07 am

Amen to that, Hopelessnomo!

9 nobugsonme September 18, 2007 at 3:27 am

More from Curbed.

10 management September 18, 2007 at 7:17 pm


We would like to assure everyone that each and every complaint that was received by our office was dealt with immediately and appropriately. We had an exterminator visit and inspect every apartment that called our office suspecting bed bugs and some turned out to be mosquitoes, etc; but as a precaution we had also these apartments exterminated. It’s not a building wide problem it was limited to several apartments. There isn’t anyone that was ignored and every complaint was dealt with immediately. In fact any tenant that had a problem was called by us after the exterminate visit to verify that the problem was resolved.

Please note that it might take several visits by the exterminator to completely clean an apartment. If your space was exterminated and you still have a problem please advise us immediately as we had arranged with the exterminator to come back as many times needed to get rid of the problem. If anyone else has a problem which was not reported to us please call our office and be assured that we will take care of the problem immediately.

Also, we would like to ask you to be careful with bringing in any old furniture, mattresses, etc. to the building to prevent the bed bugs from initial entry; because that is where the problem usually starts. Please note that the bed bug problem initially started by a new tenant transferring their property with the bugs from their previous location. This in addition to tenants bringing good looking furniture, mattresses, etc. from the garbage, being oblivious to the fact that it is full of bed bugs. There is no way for us to control what every tenant transports in from the street, garbage, or from any other building that is already infested.

On September 12, 2007 people started posting here about this problem. Until these posts started there wasn’t any outstanding unresolved complaint. We have documented every call received from tenants and every visit by our exterminator. Looking back on all the posts there isn’t anyone complaining to state “I currently have a bed bug problem.” They’re talking about history or just suggesting what to do if there is a problem. In fact current tenants’ posts are that they don’t have any problems. Some of these posters don’t even live in the building and seem to have an agenda other than curing the problem. One previous tenant is actually using these posts for reasons of their own, namely to try to clean their credit record ruined by their eviction for non- payment, as well as trying to get company in their misery. And as some bloggers suggested; there are here wild accusations some with mosquito bites etc.

11 nobugsonme September 18, 2007 at 11:45 pm

Hi Building Management,

It appears that you have posted above the response you left on the 248 McKibben MySpace page. Which is fine.

I just wanted to clarify for anyone who might come upon it and be confused that when you say “here,” you mean, not here, but the 248 McKibben Myspace page. Which is entirely not connected with this blog.

12 Harriet December 4, 2007 at 1:49 pm

My building is fast becoming infested. What started as one apt. is now about 12 or so. The reason I didn’t call 311 is because inspectors come during the day when there are no bedbugs in plain sight. I don’t have the typical signs of bb activity because as soon as I knew I had them, which was because I had been in a neighbor’s apt. who had them, I encased the mattress and boxspring. (within a week) I don’t have tons of bloodstains on sheets for 311 inspectors to see or bed bugs crawling around.

My fear is that they will think I don’t have them simply because they won’t see them and I don’t want a potential lawsuit comprimised. I’ve called 311 and have been extrememly unimpressed with whomever I’ve spoken to and just wound up hanging up. They didn’t seem to understand that they might not see a bb or that they could be hiding in between floor planks, etc. I’m definitely getting bitten and these bb’s are somewhere, but the PCO that landlord employs don’t do any real inspecting.

13 nobugsonme December 4, 2007 at 2:03 pm


I understand the 311 system is imperfect. However, it does seem important to get verification that you have bed bugs. Do you have a sample? Were they visible on the mattress? (It is important to remember that other conditions, like bird mites, can cause similar symptoms and in some cases be even harder to find.)

I am not surprised that the person answering the phone did not know bed bugs. They are not a bed bug hotline, but an information line for the city. But I would expect the actual inspector to know more.

If it’s a lawsuit you’re concerned about then having visual evidence documented by outsiders might be a big help. But I am not a lawyer.

14 BronxBugged April 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm

hahahaaa i dated one person from these lofts and didnt bring the suckers home. and now, back in the bronx, my neighbors brought it to me! proof that the bugs live in all boroughs, but the lofts are likely a hot bed cuz of the furniture situation. needless to say, they creeps are everywhere (the bugs not the hipsters) ahhaha!!! im only laughing so i dont cry.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: