San Francisco to change policies for dealing with bed bugs (public meeting Thursday 3/22!)

by nobugsonme on March 21, 2012 · 3 comments

in bed bugs, landlords and tenants

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the city will soon be changing some of the rules for how landlords (and other property owners) deal with bed bugs, and it’s not too late for those of you in San Francisco to learn more about and weigh in on the proposed changes.

The Chron reports,

Some of the proposed changes include requiring that landlords who provide a mattress and box spring in a unit also include a bed bug proof encasing; requiring landlords to provide bed bug prevention guidance to new tenants; and requiring that landlords who offer daily, weekly and monthly rentals look for bedbugs in units every month.

Many pest management professionals would agree with encasements, though it should be stated that a poorly designed encasement is worse than useless; so is a torn one. (See our FAQ on encasements for more.)

Handling a mattress or box spring which is encased can cause tears more easily than you’d think.  If you have a cat with claws, you’re in real risk.

Mandating encasing, then, would seem to be a complex matter, and may actually do more harm than good if hotel guests or short-term tenants end up with torn or poorly designed encasements which simply serve to better hide and harbor biting bed bugs.

This concern aside, it seems like there’s a lot of really good policies here.

For example, the new rules stipulate that monitors will be installed and inspected periodically for six weeks after the final pest control treatment for bed bugs (and this placement and monitoring will be done by “trained employees” or licensed PCOs).  Results of periodic monitor inspections will be placed in a log that DPH employees or tenants can request to view.

That seems like a very positive development, since not knowing if bed bugs are truly gone is a universal problem among those who’ve just had bed bug treatment.

Another thing which is included in that list of proposed changes (PDF, highly recommended) is a statement that clarifies that landlords are not the only “Responsible Parties” for eliminating bed bugs:

Owner will always be named as a Responsible Party, but in addition, a tenant may “contribute to a condition that constitutes a nuisance” or a PCO may “fail to correct a condition that constitutes a nuisance” and thus also be named additional Responsible Parties.

As such, the policies give specific responsibilities to tenants (such as promptly reporting bed bugs, complying with preparations and treatment, etc.).  There is an explanation of how to proceed if the tenant can’t do their own prep due to physical limitations.

However, some PCOs would object to the requirement that tenants wash, dry and bag all clothing (see Tenant 4.1 in the proposed policies PDF).  We know several highly reputable firms which don’t automatically require clients to wash and dry and bag all their clothing.  I can see that the SFDPH is trying to mandate a typical prep scenario (which tenants might object to even when PCOs do require it), and yet requiring it when a PCO might not call for it seems pointless and onerous on tenants.

The proposed rules require PCOs to carry out their job in a certain way — inspecting entire units and all adjacent units (above, below, on sides) to those infested, inspecting common areas, and documenting inspections.  This seems like a positive development.  We often hear from PCOs that they want to inspect adjacent units, but landlords often try to avoid paying for this.

If you’re in the San Francisco area, you can participate in a public meeting about the proposed changes tomorrow:

The public is invited to weigh in on this pesky topic from 1:30-3 p.m. Thursday [March 22, 2012] at 101 Grove Street in Room 300. The health department plans to finalize the new rules by the end of May.

[Emphasis added.]

Despite a few concerns, there’s some really exciting and innovative policy work here.

For a comparison, here are the current Director’s Rules and Regulations: How to Control Bed Bug Infestation (2006, PDF) from the San Francisco Director of Public Health.

This is the current San Francisco Department of Public Health bed bug page (with links to fact sheets for landlords, tenants, and SROs, in English, Chinese, and Spanish).

1 so unsettling March 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm

It does sound like a real positive set of moves. I like the idea about monitors after treatment. Too often, at least in my area, they just treat a few times and not much is said. It depends on the tenant to complain again if they think they still have them, and oftentimes people can’t really tell. Also, the idea of routine inspections is good. Where I live, they check for roaches every few months, which seems silly since I have never heard of roaches in this building or any other in this northern area. It would make much more sense to be keeping an eye open for bed bug evidence that pco’s are so much better at finding than tenants are.

The encasements and bagging might raise some philosophical issues for PCOs who have different ideas about how best to approach this. PCOs know more about this than city officials do, so there may be a conflict of interest in some situations. But all in all, it certainly represents an advance on some of the laicadaisical approaches that I have witnessed. And it show that governments are realizing that this is a real problem that requires more systematic attention that has been the rule.

2 nobugsonme March 24, 2012 at 12:21 am

I agree, so unsettling!

3 cilecto March 27, 2012 at 10:15 am

This is not 100% germane to this post, but I believe that we have the knowhow to construct mattresses and box springs that are “self encasing”. Manufacturers would need awareness and demand to make it worth their while. Also, I envision that in the next few years, you will see a change in how box springs are made: It seems just as easy to mold a “box spring” from plastic as it is to construct the currently common wood and fabric box.

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