Debugging Bed Bug Infestations in Apartment Dwellings
By Nelson Townes III, Vice President, National Sales Distribution
What’s the No. 1 pest in America? According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), the repeat winner in 2019 is bed bugs.
Although bed bugs have been around for as long as there have been human beings, infestations were considered rare and uncommon from the 1950s through the 1990s. No longer is this the case. Scientists are unsure of the exact reasons for today’s resurgence in bed bug infestation rates, which are soaring in many cities across the United States.
Bed bugs are a particular problem for property managers of multi-dwelling apartment units, given the threat of infestation traveling from one renter’s home to the apartments of other tenants. Without insurance to transfer the costs of bed bug remediation, property managers not only must bear this expense, they may also be in the crosshairs of plaintiff attorneys filing personal injury lawsuits on behalf of tenants.
Such risks are growing, with virtually every pest control member (97%) of the NPMA treating cases of bed bug infestations in the past year. The insect, which feeds on human blood, is so ubiquitous an annual Bed Bug Awareness Week has been designated in June to caution people about the epidemic.
The good news is that specialized renters insurance programs, available to certain property managers, enable renters to purchase relatively inexpensive bed bug remediation coverage. Given the significant chance of experiencing an unwelcome invasion of bed bugs in Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Cleveland—the top seven locations of major bed bug infestations, according to recent research—tenants may want to review and consider this cost-effective way to rid their homes of the parasitic pest.
This doesn’t mean that apartment dwellers outside these major metropolitan areas are immune to an infestation; all cities, large and small, are vulnerable
to the two species of the insect, Cimex hemipterus and Cimex lectularious. Moreover, some people may feel that good housekeeping eradicates the risk of an invasion. Not so, since lack of hygiene has little to do with bed bug infestations. Even the cleanest, most expensive hotels in the world are subject to infestations, with 82% of U.S. hotels reported to have sought bed bug remediations. Worst of all, such disasters are spreading at an alarming rate, according to the American Society of Microbiology.
Close proximity is a key factor in infestation. Bed bugs often travel through ducts and false ceilings across an apartment complex. Since bed bug eggs latch onto clothing, neighbors are another avenue of infestation. When Anne from next door comes over for a cup of coffee, bed bugs may come with her, inadvertently infesting the apartment.
The influx in the parasite has resulted in a corresponding spike in personal injury litigation brought against hotels whose guests have been bitten by the bug. Nearly two dozen states have enacted laws or regulations requiring hotels and other types of commercial residences to keep the public safe from bed bugs. Property managers like landlords are subject to these same laws; they, too, have been sued, with recent settlements ranging from $40,000 to $800,000 on a per injury basis.
The high expense to settle some cases is due to the severe reactions that victims may experience from a bed bug bite.
In 2018, a lawsuit was filed by Victoria Secret’s model Sabrina Jales St. Pierre against a California hotel for bites covering most of her body. The lawsuit stated she had suffered psychological trauma that adversely affected her work and career. News reports named the defendant hotel, which likely endured reputational repercussions as a result. Similar headaches for property managers may be in store if tenants affected by bed bug infections leak this information on social media.
Remediation Made Easy
Against this bleak backdrop is the ability for apartment tenants to purchase bed bug remediation insurance. The annual premium cost varies, but in this author’s experience, is quite reasonable generally ranging from $12 to $24 for between $500 and $1,000 in coverage, respectively, without the need to pay a deductible. According to 2019 statistics, the average cost of remediating a bed bug infestation in a studio or one-bedroom apartment is between $300 and $900, meaning the novel insurance policy (available through only a handful of insurers) would absorb the remediation expense.
Property managers also benefit when their tenants buy the insurance. For one thing, the risk of infestation is significantly reduced if one apartment is rid of the offensive pests before adjacent units are infected. Some insurers will even seal off and treat adjacent units next to the infected premises to prevent further infestation.
Litigation risks also may correspondingly decrease, as the insurance limits the landlord-tenant disputes that typically occur in such scenarios. And since there is no such thing as “loss of rent insurance” for tenants who abruptly vacate their premises due to an infestation, some insurer’s remediation coverages are designed to provide tenants’ certainty that the infestation has been effectively resolved; the policy requires a final inspection by a licensed pest control professional to confirm bed bug elimination.
That could be good news for everyone, given the blood-sucking parasite’s recent resurgence. Proactive elimination of bed bugs reduces the opportunity for bed bugs to travel from one place to the next, helping us all sleep soundly.