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Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
In this second part of a two-part series, I’ll continue to discuss how the Bedbug Registry should factor into an apartment hunt. In my previous column, I talked about two apartments which I ruled out not because there were past bed bug reports, but because I was dubious of management’s handling of the infestations.
The two examples below also showed up on the Bedbug Registry, but that did not make me dismiss them out of hand. It merely made me ask very pointed questions, which you should do too.
Apartment No. 3 - Things that make you go Hmmm…
“They aren’t showing this place till the 25th,” the broker told me. “It’s undergoing renovations.”
All well and good, but: (1) I had looked at a few apartments under renovation — how bad could it be? (2) The rent was exactly in my price range, but the surrounding neighborhood was generally not. While any one of a number of factors could have contributed to that, (3) there was a small, a very small, bed bug report.
“Bites appeared 29 August. Fumigating Sept 1st,” was all it said. The report had been a year earlier.
If this apartment had been available to see during my timeframe, I would have carefully questioned the management about the building’s bed bug history.
I would have noted the report (with its very limited amount of information) and asked them what the outcome had been, who they had used to do the job, and ascertained that it was gone. And if those answers were satisfactory, well, what could be better than a landlord who was of the same mind as I about avoiding and eradicating bed bugs?
Alas, I was running out of steam. So I decided to call off my search until after the holidays and didn’t press the issue.
Apartment No. 4 - Ok, I’d give you a try
The one apartment that I would have considered, if I had liked the apartment (not enough light), was one whose building had a single report, which said only that the person had bites and found other evidence and was going to do what she could with diatomaceous earth (DE). Apparently this person had not contacted management and in fact had not even confirmed the presence of bed bugs. Plus, it had been three years ago.
“Oh yes, I know that girl,” said the woman showing the place, who lived in the same building. “She lived above me, in fact, so I was freaking. But she moved out, and when they went in, they couldn’t find any bed bugs. I think she was looking for an excuse to leave.”
She volunteered information about another infestation in the building, on the other side from that apartment, that had been taken care of. I wouldn’t have known about it if she hadn’t told me. And her description of management’s response was adequate, plus she had said that the company jumped on it right away.
To boot, she had lived on the block for five years and knew the management well, she said. Although she didn’t have particulars on how the place had been treated or whether adjacent units (above, below and to the side) had been inspected and/or treated, I felt it was something I could work with. I would have been comfortable asking the management company about it.
Of course, there was no guarantee that any of what she said was true. But it seemed too complex a story to fabricate — most of the answers I’d gotten from real estate agents had been evasive or, as one had put it, “Ew.” But no information. And at least one had not looked me in the eye.
Luckily the guy who was going to take my place in the share that I currently occupied changed his mind. I decided to halt the search and regroup, assimilating everything I’d learned about the market, my own wants and needs, and, yes, the pervasiveness of bed bugs.
I was of two minds about the brokers who did not know, or preferred not to know, about the condition of the buildings they were showing. It depressed me a little that they would feel no moral compunction against trying to put me in a possibly infested home.
On the other hand, were they responsible for the actions of a shyster landlord? Brokers had to make a living, didn’t they? And how can brokers filter out buildings with badly handled bed bug infestations?
I called off my search for a variety of reasons unrelated to bed bugs. But I was able to start appreciating my present surroundings anew. My current roommate knows my bed bug history, and the incoming roommate came pre-indoctrinated by a one-time run-in with the bugs, so she already knows the drill—no used furniture, for starters.
Meanwhile I was able to write two columns that constitute a sort of primer on how to use the Bedbug Registry responsibly. One must read between the lines, and use the reports to guide your investigation of a property and its management.
In other words, it’s a jumping-off point, or an addition to the due diligence you would use to check a place out anyway, rather than a reason to chalk a great apartment off your list.
Maybe when spring comes around I will start looking again, ready to use the knowledge I gained on this vision quest of an apartment hunt. But I will be ready to investigate.
Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact.