NYC supers talk bed bugs: "We're gonna have to know how to deal with them"

By Theresa Braine  | November 12, 2010 - 3:15PM

When we heard that NYC supers were getting together earlier this week to talk about bed bugs, we hustled over to listen in. After all, the city’s supers are among those on the front lines of the bed bug invasion, and by the simple act of, say, instructing a resident how to properly wrap bed-bugged belongings before disposing of them, they can potentially prevent infestation of an entire building.

 “Allegedly, they’re on their way. Some of them are here already. We’re gonna have to know how to deal with them,” said a member of the Superintendents Technical Association, introducing the topic of the monthly meeting. On hand was a well-known pest-control company in the NYC area, there to educate the 40 or so superintendents assembled.

Here's a sampling of what they heard:

  • Landlords are now required to notify prospective tenants in writing about any bedbug infestations of the past year. And since supers are often the ones who show apartments, they were reminded of their responsibility to answer truthfully if asked.
  • It is illegal for supers to spray for bed bugs! (What? Supers spray? Apparently they do.) According to the pest-control guy, it carries up to a $25,000 fine.  “You’re not licensed, you’re not insured.” ’Nuf said.
  • Stop telling people to throw out bed-bugged belongings. According to the pest control specialist, buildings could be held liable for replacement furniture. “The less you say, the better.”
  • Don’t remove discarded beds and stash them in the basement. Old beds, bed-bugged or not, are no longer being taken away in exchange when a new one is delivered. If you drag a bed-bugged mattress downstairs and leave it there, “your basement gets bedbugs. The building on the way down gets bedbugs,” said the pest control specialist. Non-infested mattresses should also be left in an apartment until bulk day.
  • Not only that, but live-in supers face the same risks as their tenants, maybe even more. “You can get bedbugs just like your tenants can,” said the pest control specialist. In fact, he said, they are often picked up while doing a job for a tenant who hasn’t told anyone about the bugs, or doesn’t know about them.
  • Prep is the biggest issue, the PCO said, given that it’s about “90 percent” of the job and that people rarely understand what needs to be done. “You have to turn your whole house upside down.”

Questions were lively and started from Step A.

“What do I tell the tenant?”

“That the exterminator is going to come,” said the exterminator.

 “Are the mattress covers any good?” 

Yes, the exterminator said, the ones that lock bugs in and prevent others from crawling to join them.

“Why shouldn’t we spray the mattresses?”

Many of the chemicals that supers, as unlicensed laypeople, have access to could at best be irritants and at worst intensify the problem. Raid, for instance, “is a horrible thing” to spray on bed bugs, since it could cause them to scatter. “It’s like putting gasoline [down] and spreading a fire.”


Theresa Braine is a journalist and bed bug survivor who also writes the Bedbugged! column on BrickUnderground.

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