The ethics of bed bugs: the lies landlords and roommates tell

by nobugsonme on October 17, 2008 · 2 comments

in bed bugs, new york, new york city

Leigh Kamping-Carder has an excellent new article in the Observer’s Real Estate section on the lies landlords tell tenants and roommates tell other roommates.

At least a quarter of the article is about landlords and roommates who do not disclose the presence of bed bugs to prospective tenants or roommates until it is too late (if ever).

Thanks to the internet, those lies are being documented. Bed Bug Registry Founder Maciej Ceglowski pointed the Observer to Bed Bug Registry entries like this one, describing how a new roommate discovered the apartment came with “pets,” when s/he started getting bed bug bites:

“I started showing bites the second or third day,” wrote one poster in September, referring to an apartment in Bushwick. “[The primary tenant, Larry] claimed no knowledge of the bugs, then acknowledged that there was a problem a year ago but it had been cleared away. … I left at the end of the month. On the way out I noticed the other roommate was covered in bites as well. I left a note for the next roommate and a jar of dead bugs so that he would understand. He moved out the next day but I think Larry is looking for a new roommate.”

I have huge sympathy for this poster, and I think it is highly unethical for landlords, roommates, subletters and others to knowingly let their bed bug-infested spaces to others without disclosing the problem.

Frankly, even disclosing the presence of bed bugs is not enough. We hear stories on the forums about too many people whose response to disclosure is “oh, well, I can live with a few bugs.” (They have no idea.)

The article also highlights the fact that a primary motivation for this non-disclosure is that most potential tenants would not think bed bugs are okay bedmates. And in the current financial climate, people can’t afford to have an empty apartment or room for rent.

Where landlords are responsible for pest eradication, renters seeking roommates are in a particular bind: they may not feel they can rent the room, but they also can’t afford to live there alone.

Their options are limited: they can move (which may involve breaking the lease or subletting, which will likely present the same ethical problem as replacing roommates), they can lie, or they can accept the kind of roommates who claim not to care if the apartment has bed bugs (shudder).

In short, it is a mess.

1 Jessica June 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I registered my apartment with bedbugregistry 3 times, and the address continues to clear it’s name and come up free of bugs. There is something wrong with the site. I have multiple health department claims, (including from other people at my location) to prove it.

2 nobugsonme June 11, 2009 at 12:46 am


What you’re describing may actually be a technical glitch of some kind. I encourage you to email Maciej Ceglowski, the site owner, whose email is in small print at the bottom of the website pages. He is very helpful and I am sure he will want to make sure everything is working right.

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