Invasion of the bedbugs - Page 4

How we dealt with these disgusting little bloodsuckers; and why we still fear stigma and our landlord

This is when things got nasty and when I learned that many people (about half the population, according to various sources) do not react to bedbug bites at all.

After reading everything we could about bedbugs, watching horrendous videos of elderly people swatting insects off their bodies, and perusing vomit-inducing pictures of telltale bedbug signs — smeared blood, fecal stains, and carcass buildups — we did a thorough search of our bedroom and found a cluster between the carpet and the baseboard behind our bed. Now the question was: what to do next? It's what everyone asks when they encounter an infestation. And sometimes, it's hard to answer.


"Many of the people who come into our office with bedbug issues are afraid of retaliation," said Ted Gullicksen, head of the San Francisco Tenants Union. "They don't want to tell their landlords because they don't want to lose their apartments or get fined."

But in most cases, they're wrong. City health codes specify that rental properties be free of "any public nuisance," a category that includes bedbugs. Because my girlfriend and I didn't know that at the time, we worried that we'd somehow be blamed for the infestation.

When we found our nest, we did what most tenants fearing eviction and/or more bills would do. We tried to handle the problem on our own, turning to family and the Internet for advice. Folk remedies soon poured in and we tried them all. We threw out excess clothing, sprayed our bedroom with cedar oil, steam-cleaned our carpet, and then sprinkled diatomaceous earth, an organic powder that kills insects, into every nook and cranny we could find. Then we started sleeping on the couch to wait for the bugs in our bedroom to die. But after four days, the unthinkable happened: more bites.

Potter said it's a common problem because bedbugs respond to store-bought pesticides by scattering into walls, often showing up a few days later in other rooms or units. "What's worse," Potter added, "is that there's nothing saying they can't be reintroduced even after you've invested in professional treatment. And, depending on the size of the problem, that can cost more than $10,000." Indeed, the only method of eradication that most pest control companies, including Pestec, guarantee these days is heat treatment, which necessitates the use of expensive technology and requires multiple follow-ups to ensure success. Plus, it's not cheap.

When my girlfriend and I realized that our problem wasn't going to magically disappear, we looked into the cost of treatment and freaked out. We were prepared to pay a couple hundred bucks, but the quotes we got were crazy — thousands of dollars for two rooms. We're not broke, but forking out that kind of money would hobble us. And besides, by then we were getting scared. What if our landlord found out we'd had bugs for weeks? Could our decision to go it alone be used against us? Could it be grounds for eviction?

We didn't want to find out and, at that point, we didn't understand how difficult bedbug eradication could be. So we decided to repeat home treatment and simply hoped for the best. The result? It seems to have worked. My girlfriend has been bite-free for over a month and we haven't seen a bedbug since July.

But now I'm wondering if we just dug ourselves a deeper hole. I mean, up until about two weeks ago when I started doing heavy research for this article, we thought we were in the clear. That's why we never reported the problem (which is another reason I decided to write this under a pseudonym). But now that I'm painfully aware of how resilient these fuckers are, I'm wondering if we made the right choice. Still, the thought of coming out with this now fills me with dread. Despite what the Tenant's Union says, I just can't imagine getting out of this without some sort of fine.