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  • …And Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

    [caption id="attachment_9860" align="alignleft" width="200"]Mike Ferrante Mike Ferrante[/caption]

    Written by Mike Ferrante

    We’ve all heard that children’s rhyme, “Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite”, right? Well, I have to admit, when I was kid, I put bed bugs in the same category as the Boogeyman, Bigfoot and Darth Vader…imaginary.

    So, now I’m all grown up and a landlord to boot, and I’m here to tell you, bed bugs are REAL!  I found this out the hard way, by having to do battle with them in a rental.  Apparently, bed bugs are little hitchhikers; they jump in your luggage, clothing or used furniture at a hotel, friend’s house or second-hand store.  They particularly like mattresses and box springs, where there are lots of little nooks and crevasses to hide in and lay their eggs.

    They are mainly nocturnal.  They hide during the day, then creep out at night to suck your blood, and not in a nice way, for all of you True Blood and Vampire Diaries fans (honestly, I only know that reference because the women in my house watch that junk!).  And these little parasites are hard to get rid of!  They can live without eating for long periods--I have been told by an exterminator 9-12 months!

    How does this relate to real estate?  Well, as I said, I just dealt with bed bugs in a rental unit.  But it also cost me quite a bit of money and lost rent.  You see, bed bugs don’t travel on their own.  They are carried by hosts.  A new tenant, or a guest of theirs, brought bed bugs into my house.  The tenants starting suspecting bed bugs, due to red welts on their skin, and managed to capture one of the little intruders.  I took his corpse to my local exterminator who identified it as a bed bug.  Apparently, because the government has banned all the “good” pesticides, the only sure-fire way to kill them is by using heat.  The exterminator brings in heaters and fans to raise the temperature inside the home to 115 degrees for about 15-30 minutes.  The air has to be circulated to get in all the cracks and holes where they hide.  And this costs $2500-4000!

    Well, who pays for this?  Believe it or not, it can depend on your lease.  Most leases say it is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain the property to be free of pests.  They also say that it is the tenant’s responsibility to maintain the premises in a neat and sanitary manner.  But bed bugs are not a result of dirty or unsanitary living quarters.  They are just hitchhiking parasites.  In my case, I purchased the best chemical treatments available, and advised my tenants of the following steps:

    • Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can't be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
    • Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
    • Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
    • Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
    • Get rid of clutter around the bed.

    I felt it was unfair that I should bear the whole responsibility of getting rid of the bugs.  My tenants disagreed, and moved.  I certainly hope they did not take bed bugs to their new landlord’s house.  Moving does not get rid of the problem, unless you pitch all your clothes and furniture and buy new.  Five months later, after my chemical treatments, I had the place inspected and treated by a professional—it is bed bug-free.   But I have lost 5 months rent, hundreds in chemical treatments, and hours of labor cleaning and treating the premises.  I probably would have been better off hiring the exterminator to use the heat method.

    The moral of the story?  As a landlord, I now ask prospective tenants to affirm that they do not currently have bed bugs.  Furthermore, I make them responsible in the lease for treatment, should they bring bed bugs to my house.

    For tenants, ask your landlord why the previous tenant moved.  Ask them if the home has bed bugs.  Read your lease.  Who is responsible if bed bugs are discovered?

    Mike Ferrante is a Realtor with Century 21 Homestar, with over 20 years of experience in construction, property management and real estate investing.  A Cleveland native, Mike has a BS from Heidelberg College in Tiffin, OH and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University, Weatherhead School of Management.

    To contact Mike, call 216-322-5052 or email [email protected]

    Filed under: Common Household Repairs, Forest Hill News & Events
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