No issue scares a landlord more than bedbugs in an apartment. OK, maybe crime, evictions, vacancy, insurance and taxes come first, but bedbugs and other pest issues are a serious matter in a rental. When you have bedbugs in your apartment, you need to act on it and get rid of them as fast as you can.
Disclaimer: I am not a pest control professional. I am a landlord that has dealt with bedbugs. I know how to get rid of them. If there is anything in this article that is illegal, I did not do it.
The first thing you need to do with bedbugs is understand the problem. What unit are they in? Are they in adjacent units too? Do the tenants have a lot of clutter? And you should then proceed to get rid of them. You need to strategize, and have a take no prisoners approach. If you are worried about the insecticides, call a professional.
Bedbugs are generally a low quality tenant issue. They can happen to anyone, but getting rid of them in a higher income unit is easier. Generally, higher income people do not have bedbugs, and their friends’ homes that they visit do not either. They do not buy mattresses at the corner mattress market that stores old mattresses in the back room alongside the new mattresses. They do not pick up old mattresses on the curb that are being thrown out (probably because of bedbugs). They do not have bags of clothes stacked to the ceiling in the closet.
If your tenant has clutter, which is common in a low income rental, you will have a hard time getting rid of the bedbugs. If you have a tenant with clutter, understand you will likely have to get rid of the tenant before your problem will be 100% resolved.
I do not care what kind of ‘Pest Addendum” you have, in a multifamily unit, it is your expense to get rid of them. You can attempt to charge the tenant, but in reality, you do not know where the bugs came from. They could have come from the common laundry area, an adjoining unit, friends of the neighbors, etc. It is impossible to pinpoint the source of the bedbugs.
It is easy to kill a bedbug. If you see it, you can step on it. You can squish it with your thumb. You can spray them with almost any bug spray, and they will die. And you know where the bugs will eventually go to; the bed where people are sleeping.
If you sat on a bed, with an ice pick, sooner or later every bedbug will come up to say hello and bite you. They must eat, and they eat human blood. You could stab each one with that ice pick as they got close. That is, if you can see them.
But fear not, they must feed five times before they can breed, and by that time, they are easy to spot. Be patient on that bed, it will only be a few months, a year at best. They are about the size of a wood tick when they are full grown, but much faster.
Sitting on the bed, with an ice pick, is not an option for most people, and you might get a look like you are crazy by your family members.
Other options are heat, which is expensive, and might not work. It may damage some items in your apartment because your entire apartment would be heated to ~130 degrees. Everything gets hot, except the small deep crevasse (or the apartment next door) where the bedbugs went to hide. And there will be places for them to get to. Heat is also very expensive.
There are also bedbug dogs, but that is only a detection method. Bedbug traps get some, but not all. They too, are more of a detector, not a destroyer of bedbugs. So you have to go to plan A, insecticides.
What to do with the Tenants
If you have tenants in the unit, you will have a different approach than if you are vacant. If your tenants have clutter, you want to start the bedbug extermination just before you give them notice to move. Moving them out will be your only way to be 100% bedbug free. Understand that every time they do wash, or walk through the hallways, they may be spreading the bedbugs to other units, so do not waste time.
I highly recommend if there is significant clutter, give your tenant notice to vacate, so you can be rid of the issue. But do not wait, start to reduce the population immediately.
If your tenant is going to stay, have them buy bedbug mattress covers. Make sure they wash all the clothes that they have. Wash all of the bedding. Wash, or at a minimum, put all of the stuffed animals in the dryer. If you have coin operated machines, your tenants will not want to spend that much money. If they do, they will pack the washing machines so full, some of the clothes do not even get wet. Therefore washing everything will not be effective.
With tenants in the unit, you want the bugs to stay put, and die. You do not want to chase them to a different unit. A bedbug fogger will chase the bugs away; it will not kill them as well as you want. Some will die, and you will feel good, but other bedbugs will linger behind, afraid to come into the poisoned area. They will detect the poison and stay in their hiding place until it is safe to come outside.
You need a pesticide that has a long residual effect. You need a pesticide that is non-detectable by the bedbug. You need a pesticide that the bedbug does not have a resistance to. And you need the bait or feeding source to stay put until the poison gets to the bedbugs. The bait is your tenant.
Bedbug Insecticide Strategies
One of the best poisons for bedbugs is a chemical called Chlorfenapyr, which is the active ingredient in Phantom. Phantom is made by BASF. It meets all the basics. In tests that I have read, they sprayed Phantom on a surface, let it dry, and walked a bedbug across the surface. The bedbug died but it took 10 days for a near 100% kill. Doing it again, on the same surface four months later, the bedbugs died in 10 days again.
So Phantom works, but it takes time. As long as your tenants are in the unit, this insecticide is the one to use. That’s why you want to start with this spray. The bugs will not migrate to the next unit, as long as they have food in this unit. And they won’t hide, as they cannot detect Phantom. And they are not resistant to it.
Phantom also kills all sorts of other bugs. Cracks, crevices, baseboards, bed frames, the back of headboards, box springs, outlets, etc. are all great places to spray. Move stuff around, or take it apart, and spray. Spray it under the sinks to kill roaches while you are there, odds are if they have bedbugs, they have roaches too.
The bedbugs are going to be close to the bed; studies have shown that 85% – 90% of bedbugs are found within fifteen feet of the bedding. The closer to the bed, the more likely it is the place the bedbugs will go to. Look to the closest places first, headboards, bed frames, mattresses and box springs. Bedbugs are lazy; after they eat, they look for close place to take a nap. They don’t remember where the slept yesterday, so each day they might be in a different cozy spot. If your tenants are not moving out, Phantom is the only insecticide that you will need. You can also use an insecticide dust, but Phantom will do the job.
One strategy that works is to give your tenant a 2-gallon sprayer full of Phantom. They will be able to spray all sorts of places that you might not be able to. They can spray new places every day. Fill it up when they empty it. I had tenants spray about 10 gallon of spray over the course of a few weeks. They really wanted to get rid of the bugs. That is about 40x the recommended amount, but it worked.
After the Tenants are Moved Out
Once the tenants have moved out, like 2 minutes after the door closes, get a fast acting insecticide like Temprid. You want a product that will not let the bedbugs out of the apartment once they touch it. You want a long residual life; Temprid lasts 90 days indoors. Even if the bedbugs can detect the spray, it’s OK. You want to contain them. When they eventually come out, looking for food, you want a fast kill; you do not want hungry bedbugs looking for an easy meal in the next apartment. You want them to die, as soon as they come out from hiding. If your tenants are gone, spray the walls, ceilings, carpet, everything.
If you have worn out carpet, now is the time to replace it. You sprayed the top of the carpet as soon as the tenants have vacated, now spray the floor again after the carpet is removed, especially the edges and tack strips. Caulk the top of the baseboard. Caulk where the window, and door trim meet the wall, to eliminate hiding places. It will also look better. Remove the outlet and switch covers, and spray inside the electrical boxes. Spray the window trim. You need to make sure that is a bedbug comes out of hiding a month later; it will cross a line of insecticide.
Once you have done that, you should have your problem contained. Have a follow up treatment with Temprid in ~4 weeks, if you are still vacant.
- Bedbugs are easy to kill, but hard to find
- Start early before the bedbug spread
- Use a long lasting residual product, like Phantom, when the tenants are in the building
- Once the tenants have moved out, spray a faster kill spray but long lasting, like Temprid
- Call in a professional if you have to, but know it will be expensive
Have you ever had to get rid of bedbugs? What was your strategy?