Down and out in New York, with bed bugs

by nobugsonme on August 29, 2010 · 4 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, gale brewer, hpd, new york city

Back in 1933, in Chapter One of Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell described life with bed bugs in a cheap Parisian hotel:

Near the ceiling long lines of bugs marched all day like columns of soldiers, and at night came down ravenously hungry, so that one had to get up every few hours and kill them in hecatombs. Sometimes when the bugs got too bad one used to burn sulphur and drive them into the next room; whereupon the lodger next door would retort by having his room sulphured, and drive the bugs back.*

Minus the smell of sulfur, perhaps, Orwell would be right at home in New York City in 2010.

This Epoch Times article from Wednesday shines its light on the bed bug situation at The Vigilant Hotel, a single room occupancy (SRO) building at 370 Eighth Ave. in Manhattan whose residents are largely “seniors on fixed incomes, the mentally unstable, or the drug and alcohol dependent.”

Anyone can get bed bugs, but people with limited incomes and the elderly and disabled suffer more than anyone, because their funds and mobility are limited. And sometimes, because their landlords can get away with neglecting their properties.

In The Vigilant, not only do the rooms have bed bugs, but the management appears to have no intention of fully eradicating them. This article demonstrates just how ineffective New York City’s enforcement of its codes can be in relation to bed bugs.

Mike Snell, manager of the building for 25 years, says he warns people before they rent to expect the creatures. In fact, he hands out a non-toxic bug spray to assist residents in protecting themselves.

“We seem to be the only building that gives tenants a free, complimentary, liquid bug spray,” says Snell.

Woo-hoo! Free non-toxic bed bug spray!

Treatments are carried out in different areas of the building twice a month, according to the article. However, treatment of isolated rooms or areas will not work, if other areas also have bed bugs. Every part of the building likely needs aggressive, coordinated treatment.

The treatment of bed bugs is always difficult. In this case, it’s even moreso, since the rooms do not actually have ceilings. The old “Bowery-style” rooms have only mesh for a ceiling, making it even easier for bed bugs to travel from one room to the next.

The Epoch Times spoke to Vigilant residents, including Ken Gibson. Gibson has tried to organize residents, without much luck, and he also filed an HPD complaint regarding the bed bugs, which apparently few residents have done.

According to the Epoch Times,

In response to Gibson’s complaint, HPD inspected the building and issued violations for bedbugs, mice, and roaches on May 24. A violation letter was then sent to the Vigilant.

Next, the Vigilant informed the HPD that the violations were corrected. Snell claims to have used a certified pest-control company, Superb Pest Control.

The tenant is then issued a letter from HPD reporting the violation corrections. By the time Gibson received his letter, he had just one day left to go to the Manhattan Borough Office to dispute the claim, which he did.

Gibson has not heard back from HPD with regard to his dispute, filed on July 26, and he is still living with bedbugs.

The HPD website allows you to search for HPD Complaints and Open Violations: today, there are three Open Violations listing bed bugs in this building – the one for a 4th floor room filed on 5/24/2010 is listed as “NOT COMPLIED” as of 8/24, suggesting Gibson’s dispute of the corrections has now been accepted.

Two other rooms on the fifth floor had bed bug violations open since July 2009, but both are listed as offering “no access” as of July 2010. This suggests that a year went by without any treatment of those rooms with HPD Violations.

There are additional bed bug complaints from the second floor in June 2010, from another unit on the fourth floor and one on the third floor in January 2010, and complaints about bed bugs in the “entire building” back in September and November 2009. (However, HPD Complaints do not get acted upon unless the HPD inspects and subsequently lists them as Violations.)

The Vigilant Hotel is in District 3, so residents have the good fortune to be represented by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who had strong words for bed bugs at the New York City Council’s unveiling of the Bed Bug Advisory Board’s report (according to City Room),

“To bedbugs in the city of New York,” Ms. Quinn shouted from the steps of City Hall, “Drop dead. Your days are over, they’re numbered, we’re not going to take it anymore, we’re sick and tired.”

No one is more sick and tired than the Vigilant Hotel residents, I am sure.

Most tenants with bed bugs report bed bugs to their landlords first, and only file a complaint with HPD if the landlord does not eliminate the problem. In cases like this, residents simply must report the problem to HPD.

I hope Vigilant Hotel residents — and others in the district with unresponsive landlords — will file HPD Complaints and that they will also lobby Councilmember Quinn for her assistance with their continuing bed bug problems.

This would give Quinn a chance to stand behind her recent anti-bed bug rhetoric.

If you’re not in District 3, you can find your city councilmember via this tool.

Although it’s a bit off-topic here, I can’t resist also quoting this gem from Councilmember and persistent anti-bed bug crusader Gale Brewer:

“They [bedbugs] are in all the city agency offices,” Brewer admitted to The Epoch Times.

“All of these city workers have complained to me, because they go into these apartments and they catch bedbugs, and they go home with them. You know it is not good for anybody,” she added.

You might think that saying bed bugs were in “all” city offices is hyperbole (Brewer is also famous for telling the press that “all” the mayor’s friends have bed bugs, as noted here.)

However, the spread of bed bugs to various city agencies is being documented in recent news coverage of bed bugs in the Social Security Administration offices in Queens (which solicited treatment bids last December and this month, solicited vendors for a “bed bug heat treatment oven” here), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Offices of Human Resources and Child Support Enforcement (in lower Manhattan). While they’re not city agencies, we also can’t forget the Brooklyn and Bronx District Attorney’s offices.

Finally, you may also be interested in EV Grieve’s 2008 piece about The Vigilant, where some commenters seem rather nostalgic for the NYC flophouses of their youth.

*Note: Please do not attempt to treat your bed bugs with sulfur. As this thread on The Bed Bug Resource explains, it’s highly dangerous and there are better methods today.

1 Ken Gibson August 30, 2010 at 9:22 am

Thanks for that posting, this is shaking up management over at the Vigilant.
Strange name that for what is perhaps the hotel with the most lax cleaning service in human history…
I emailed Christine Quinn of Friday, so far have not heard a word, but it’s only Monday today…her office is around the corner! That ought to make her take heed.
And not far from the Vigilant are the offices of the Daily Mail, which ought to do the story – but has stonewalled it. Their is a new editor in charge now, so I will write to him and ask what gives…he is supposed to be for local stories and all that good stuff – and if he cannot take time for a building that evicts former soldiers for cleaning – check out Chris Lugo’s tale of the Vigilant when you click on the Epoch Times article – stuff like this you cannot make up; it’s Hitchcockian. I mean, real screenplay material. Young man checks in, gets freaked out by bugs, cleans them out of his room for hours on end, then the manager ascends the stairs and tells him: “No cleaning in my hotel, son. You gotta go, now.”
Only this is not late night sci-fi. It is reality in mid-town 21st century Manhattan.
Will we be writing nostalgically about this mess in years to come? I think not. The other question is will Manhattan become a ghost town in years to come, overrun by demonic bugs? I think it just might, unless we are vigilant about the Vigilant; about which I shall be posting updates at

2 Mark August 30, 2010 at 10:17 am

So finally someone got round to the Vigilant…
BTW, Christine Quinn has been contacted, so far, no reply…
The Vigilant staff is trying hard to cover up the mess, but to little avail.
They can hardly paint.
And for those of you who go to the Epoch Times article, check out the story about the paratrooper whom they evicted for cleaning…that is a first! And creepy! If the Vigilant is allowed to go on like this, will Manhattan become a ghost town? The bugs have the ability to take over like never before, all they need is a place that prohibits cleaning. Then they can infiltrate the whole city…

3 nobugsonme August 31, 2010 at 3:07 am


You’re right that bed bugs are surely spreading from the Vigilant, carried out by residents or employees.

But bed bugs also came into the Vigilant. The rest of the city is suffering from widespread outbreaks of bed bugs.

It was absurd that the paratrooper was encouraged to leave due to his attempts to solve the problem. On the other hand, treating a cubicle (with no roof) in isolation, in a building with apparently widespread bed bug problems, would in my understanding be a fairly futile exercise.

I hope this fellow has somewhere else which is safer to sleep in.

4 Mark August 31, 2010 at 10:48 am

You’re right, Nobugsonme – it is a futile exercise, but for the manager to evict him for cleaning it, which only benefited the hotel and the other tenants, is beyond belief.

BTW, I would like to see the bugs there given a DNA test, this was talked about in the NYT article you posted, what country did they come from? Not Mexico it seems. For some reason people are always trying to blame immigrants and the poor.

Inaction on our part is to blame…speaking of which, no word from Quinn…

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