Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
The apartment looked dreamy: a three-bedroom, two-bath penthouse in a historic Greenwich Village townhouse. At least one famous artist had lived there. Historic landmarks were mere blocks away.
Then the eye slammed into the clincher: a sentence tacked onto the end of the description that said, “DISCLOSURE: Building had bed bugs in July. FULLY remediated.”
I was filled with awe. I could hardly believe my eyes. A management so proactive, so brave, that they had beaten paranoid, bed bug-savvy renters to the punch.
This, of course, was not a reason to take the place any more than the bedbugged past was a reason to reject it.
The ad raised a number of questions but it also opened the door to dialogue, a dialogue that I would feel comfortable having.
On the one hand, I would want to grill them assiduously to learn their definition of “remediated” and get a bead on exactly where in the building the infestation had been in relation to the apartment.
On the other hand, this is just the type of landlord I’d be looking for. Kudos to them for disclosing, especially since, when I scouted out the address on the Bedbug Registry, the two results for the search came up report-free. In other words, nobody had even reported the infestation, which can indicate a “no-news-is-good-news” scenario.
While many people post reports that a building is dealing with bed bugs, and laud the management for its proactivity, the ones whose renters never need to go there can also be good contenders.
To the broker, David Namer, it was a no-brainer.
"Being upfront in the listing saves time and energy by weeding out tenants for which this information would be a deal breaker," he said to me in an e-mail. "It would be wise for other landlords to follow suit."
I would, of course, ask the broker and management a lot of pointed questions, with an eye toward sussing out whether we were on the same bed bug page, as it were. Here’s what I would ask/do before moving in:
1. I would want to know what they knew about bugs and their spread, who they had used for extermination and what the methods were, and what made them think the problem was eradicated, given that July wasn’t that long ago.
2. I would want to get a general sense of their approach: Did they inspect and treat all apartments around the infested one? Had they determined that that one had been the source of the infestation and radiated treatment out from there? Which part of the building were the bugs in? How did the management know that was the only place?
3. I would also ask what the management protocols were when it came to avoidance, basically testing the their bed bug expertise. Someone who’s well meaning but doesn’t know how to get the job done is almost as bad as someone who doesn’t want to deal with it.
4. I might want to consult with one of my experts based on the management’s answers. But with the big hurdle, disclosure, out of the way, the management and I could talk strategy rather than blame. Bed bugs are an unavoidable problem in New York City and much of the rest of the U.S., and being open to discussing that fact is a huge step forward.
For their part, this landlord was guarding itself against clueless, possibly bedbugged potential tenants. It was ruling out people steeped in bed bug ignorance—people who could endanger a building by not knowing how to avoid picking up the critters, or worse, who already had an infestation and didn’t know it.
In this way the management company could be upfront about protecting its own interests and the interests of the tenants already in the building.
I see this management company as a pioneer of sorts. It is a brave admission to acknowledge such a down-and-dirty problem in such an exalted space. (In this case, the admission apparently wasn't a deterrent to all renters—the apartment came off the market on Tuesday night.)
This is the type of disclosure and dialogue that’s necessary if we are to move forward together in eradicating the pests. If only other management companies would step up like that and take the same level of responsibility, it would bring New York a long way toward getting this problem under control once and for all.
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.