Bed Bug Complaints Hint at a Hellacious Summer Infestation


We’re into a map that DNAinfo has up today, showing which parts of Manhattan have had the largest numbers of bed bug complaints over the first three months of this year.

According to the news site, Manhattan residents made 455 complaints to 311 about bed bugs for the first three months of 2011. Since bed bug infestations tend to spike in the summer, this high number of winter complaints means that exterminators and residents are expecting another bed-bug ridden Summer From Hell.

Runnin’ Scared went back and looked at the numbers for the city as a whole. We found that 2,141 complaints to 311 have been made citywide this year. 689 violations have been issued to landlords.

Between 2003 and 2009, there was a 2,000 percent increase in bed bug complaints in Manhattan, DNAInfo reports (Between 2009 and 2010, there was only a small 4 percent increase in complaints, which suggests that complaints appear to be leveling off).

The map shows stark differences in the number of 311 calls across different sections of the borough. The three community districts in Upper Manhattan above Central Park have already logged 237 complaints this year, while the two downtown community districts encompassing Wall Street, Tribeca, Soho, and Greenwich Village had only six complaints in total.

But that doesn’t mean that rich people don’t get bed bug infestations (Bed bugs don’t discriminate between rich and poor). What it means is that people with money don’t tell to call 311 when they spot a bed bug on their living room floor. They call their landlords — who are obligated to take care of it — or they call private exterminators.

So what happens if you get bed bugs and you happen to have the misfortune of living in a building that is owned by a slumlord?

Many residents of Washington Heights and Harlem can’t depend on their landlords. This poor section of Manhattan has the most neglected buildings in the borough, and it is where the some of the city’s most notorious slumlords own property (Check out our story on ‘Worst Landlord’ Danny Hakakian). If the landlord doesn’t take care of it, they are stuck calling 311 and then waiting until city inspectors come to their apartments and issue a the landlord Class B violation for vermin and pests. In the past (like just last summer), those tenants were out of luck if the landlord ignored the violation. It’s very clear that the fact that the city did not have a big enough stick for dealing with landlords who ignored these violations was a contributor to the way bed bugs spread across the city.

But as of last month, the rules for derelict landlords have gotten much stricter. Under the new rules, once the violation is issued, the landlord must inspect the building and then notify tenants that bed bugs have been identified, and distribute a building-wide, Health Department-approved ‘Pest Management Plan’ to all tenants. They must use a licensed exterminator, and owners who are repeat offenders must have their licensed exterminator complete what’s called an ‘Affidavit of Correction of Pest Infestation.’ If they don’t provide the documents, the landlord will not be sent to a hearing before the City’s Environmental Control Board. Unlike in the past, they can be fined, and if they don’t comply, the landlords can now end up with a lien on their property.

As the summer comes, we’ll be watching to see how well this new system works.