And even if money isn't an issue, I don't want to get on my landlord's bad side. But what now? Should we just move? And what about the tenants who follow us?
It's probably not the most responsible choice, but this line of thinking is common among first time bedbug sufferers something my girlfriend and I learned on Yelp.com's local message boards. Despite all the coverage the bedbug resurgence has gotten in recent years, people on Yelp (a.k.a. everybody you know) seem to be in the dark when it comes to tenants' rights and responsibilities, with many posters opting for temporary solutions to avoid the possibility of financial penalties.
The most revealing post to date comes from a Yelper named JU who got bedbugs in early August and decided to handle matters on his own. "I know I'm moving out in four months ... I'm just trying to make it more livable until then," he wrote. Which raises the question: what about landlords? If a tenant neglects to blow the whistle on a blossoming infestation, can the property manager or building owner charge that tenant for treatment? Can JU be held responsible if his bugs move into neighboring units? Were my girlfriend and I right to think we might get evicted or fined for negligence? Maybe.
"The bedbug issue is complicated and it really boils down to cooperation," said Janna New, director of San Francisco Apartment Association. "If the problem is eradicated and then reoccurs due to a tenant's negligence or refusal to abandon risky behavior, then the cost of remediation could be negotiable. And evictions could occur."
New says she hasn't heard of anyone getting evicted for harboring bedbugs, but adds that it's important for tenants to report infestations immediately because if they ignore the problem, their entire building could quickly become infested. "It's like the flu," she said. "If you get sick, you talk to your doctor. You should do the same thing with your landlord. Teamwork is the only way to get rid of bedbugs."
That's something I wish I knew a couple months ago and something Tiffinnie McEntire, a 43 year-old acupuncturist, intuited when she noticed bugs in her Cathedral Hill apartment in 2006. Rather than waste time with store-bought insecticides, she immediately called her landlord, who responded by sending an exterminator. When that didn't work, he sent anotherm and another, until McEntire and the rest of his tenants felt safe. "It was a pain in the butt," McEntire said. "But in the end, we were all happy."
That's how an infestation should be solved, and that's probably how it'll go down if you report one as soon as you notice it. Both the Tenant's Union and the Apartment Association agree that the burden of eradication usually falls on the landlords. So if you find bugs, your best mode of action is to report the problem as soon as possible. And if you happen to be an apartment or hotel owner, you should do frequent checks and respond to reports immediately. It might cost thousands of dollars, but it could save you from a lawsuit or prolonged infestation.
THE FINAL STAGE: ACCEPTANCE
So what does it mean to live in an infested city, in an infested nation and world? Well, for one, it means that we all have some lifestyle changes to make. For Njon Weinroth, an out-of-work software salesman whose 14th floor condo has been infested for six months, that has meant staying away from friends and developing an amicable relationship with the little monsters. People without bedbugs can obviously skip this step, but Weinroth can't afford professional treatment at the moment and feels like he has no other choice.
"I do what I can to control them, but I still kill at least two a night," he said. "When I squish 'em, my blood comes out.