Dear PoPville – Bed Bugs. Shoot me. Help?

“Dear PoP,

I have a major issue with bed bugs and am looking for some guidance. I live in a rowhouse with a boatload of roommates, and I discovered bugs in my room late last last year. About two and a half month ago, I hired a great pest control company to come have one of those bed bug-sniffing dogs inspect the house. We had bugs in my room and one other.

I know it’s DC law that, in a single-family rented unit, tenants have to pony up to get rid of bugs, but I figured the property owner would have a vested interest in at least helping solve the problem. Ha. No such luck. Property management basically said, “sucks to be you.” No pun intended. Anyway.

I’d read all over the place that chemical treatment requires multiple rounds and isn’t as effective as “thermal remediation” (you know, where they bring in giant heaters and essentially bake the room.) So, I swallowed hard and footed the bill to have the two rooms treated. Cost? $1300. That was with a discount, mind you. I’m fresh out of school, so this was NOT easy to afford.

Long story short, I found a live bug ON ME yesterday. I have no idea how they came back because believe me … the pest control company treated the holy heck out of my room. My guess is that they’re coming from one of the adjoining townhomes, in which case, I may NEVER be able to get rid of them. The two rooms in our house that had bugs aren’t even adjacent at all; the only thing they share in common is a wall that connects to one neighboring house. I saw a pest control van outside that house not too long ago. If they sprayed pesticides, it could’ve sent them scattering back over my way.

I can afford one more round of extermination, but I want it to be my last one — maybe getting a moving van treated instead of the room. There’s no point treating my room again because they’ll just come back. And my landlord seems to have NO desire to help.

So, what can I do? Is this grounds to terminate a lease? I still have three months left on the lease, and it’s almost cheaper to swallow the rent than have to pay for rounds upon rounds for treatment that probably won’t work. This is driving me insane. I’m desperate (and darn near broke.)”

Terrifying. What do you guys suggest – is this grounds to terminate the lease? Does anyone have experience successfully removing bedbugs from their homes/apartments?

We spoke about one reader’s experience with bed bugs here and Tony’s battle with them here.

30 Comment

  • Please tell us your location so we can know if we’re at risk as well. tks.

  • pablo .raw

    I’m wondering if the spring weather and summer will awake these creatures or help their proliferation…

  • chemical treatment worked for me.

    • me too. i forget the name of the company we used (this was 3 years ago) but they had a 6 month guarantee on the treatment. also, even if you decide to move – you have to wash every single piece of your clothing, bedding, towels, etc in VERY hot water (and i think dry on hot heat). keep them in sealed black trash bags until you know your bedbug problem is taken care of. also, have you checked your mattress for bed bugs? and all your furniture? you can also get bed-bug proof mattress/box spring covers and make sure that you keep your bed pulled out from the wall. basically, just moving isn’t the answer – you need to take precautions to make sure the bugs don’t hitch a ride to your new place on all your belongings.

  • If your neighbor has them and won’t treat, move. My neighbor had them, refused to admit it, refused to treat and they just kept coming back to our house for more than a year until we moved out. Our landlords are completely screwed and are going to have to sue.

    Call the department of health, call tenant services, call your council member’s office – call your landlord again and beg. I think you can probably break the lease under the quiet enjoyment clause, but I’m not an expert.

    And after my bedbug nightmare, I can’t recommend Affordable Pest highly enough. Everyone there was really helpful, particularly Emmanuel. And they treated our 4 bedroom house, with a 6 month policy of coming back, for only $700.

  • Are there any homeowner’s policies that have a bedbug clause? Given how likely it is to happen and how expensive it is to treat, it seems like a good idea.

  • oh my. I’m really sorry. if the infestation is really bad, I say move. actually, first you should talk to your neighbors. I’d be sure to take all the precautions you can to ensure the bugs don’t follow you to a new location. if any live ones have gotten into your bed, clothes, boxes, etc. the problem will just follow you as I’m sure you know.

    and just to get back at your landlord for not being a nice person, I’d definitely warn everyone that the house is infested so he can’t rent it. if you want to play hardball with him, I might even tell him that you and your roommates are planning on full disclosure to whoever comes to look at the house. he might feel differently then. it’s only a matter of time before those bugs are in everyone’s bedroom.

  • And don’t forget, that you really need to treat the ENTIRE house (including getting all roommates to wash everything in hot water, reduce clutter, and get bedbug proof mattress and boxspring covers) to be sure of solving the problem.

    Just treating the affected rooms probably won’t do it.

  • If your neighbor’s house has bedbugs and you are both treating it at different times then – yeah they are probably just moving back and forth.

    We (husband and I) had bed bugs in NYC…. we would spray then they would be gone for awhile and then our neighbors would spray and they would come back to our apartment. It sucked.

    We moved to DC in JULY so the back of the truck got really hot… we hoped that would kill some of them off. We also put all of our clothes in vacuum sealed bags and we threw away every piece of furniture in our bedroom.

    When we got to the new place… I steamed every single thing before it went into the house and then I immediately washed all of our clothes and linens as they were pulled out of the vacuum bags.

    Thankfully, that worked and we didn’t bring any with us.

    I would move ASAP if at all possible.

  • Nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  • I had to deal with them when I lived in Dupont Circle a year or so ago. I just kept buying the $15-20 dollar bottles of Bed Bug Killer they sell at most hardware stores, stayed very vigilant, and warred with them for several months, and eventually I got them all and never had them again. Persistence is key.

  • Best of luck to you. I have not had them, but I empathize.

    I would make a move: 1) document all you’ve done — with receipts & communication logs, 2) communicate this and also request to terminate the lease, 3) get rid of them again and move.

    Once I read dozens of helpful comments about how to get rid of them. I think it was here (or somewhere else on Salon or Slate):

  • This happened to me. You need to move, as soon as possible. The day you get your stuff into your new apartment/house you need to have the pest control company meet you at your new place and treat all of your stuff and the unit. This needs to be done because you WILL move them with you, espically if it’s gotten to the point where you are finding live BBs on you. You need to move, now. You will waste your money and drive your self nuts staying in taht house. Trust Me. Good luck.

  • We had ’em once for a while. Luckily, it was a bitter cold winter, and I took the mattresses and box springs out and left them there for a week in the frigid weather. Then I cleaned along the baseboards, door jambs, trim, ceiling fan, electrical outlets with bleach water every time I saw evidence of them. Then i used diatomaceous earth along the edge of the room. Seems to have worked. But again persistance is a must.

  • 1. Seal your bed with one of those bedbug proof mattress protectors.
    2. Wash and dry all bedding on high heat.
    3. Surround your bed with carpet tape (legs and/or in a big rectangle around the floor). The bugs will come for you in the night and will got stuck on the tape. This really works. You can also just put the carpet tape all along the adjoining wall with the offending house. Tape needs to be changed bi-monthly or so as it gets lets sticky because of fuzz and dust.

  • I cannot offer help about the laws, as I live in MD, but I can tell you that in January I found one bed bug on my sofa as I was heading for bed. I freaked out and I called the landlord the next morning and within a day they had an inspection of the entire building I live in. They discovered that the apartment below me was completely infested and scheduled a treatment for that Friday.

    The process getting ready for the treatment was arduous, specifically since the inspection found ZERO bugs in our house, but since I found one on the sofa we have to be treated anyway. We had to box everything in our apartment into plastic bins or sealed trash bags, removing every thing from the floors, dressers, disassemble the bed and then move all of this into the kitchen and bathroom. We rented a hotel for the night because our mattress was wet, and so was the sofa and rugs and the smell was awful.

    This is the company that my landlord used ( They guarantee the treatment for one year. We wanted to get the hell out of dodge, but we have to wait to move for 60 days after the treatment. They also tell you not to bring any new furniture, blankets, pillows, etc. into the house for 60 days as those items will not be treated and “will become infested”. You also cannot clean with chemicals (e.g. dust or wipe down the furniture), but the bathrooms and kitchen are fine to clean.

    Good luck.

    • I forgot to add. The company drilled small holes around the baseboard every couple of feet through the entire apartment to treat walls and voids between the apartments.

  • That really sucks. I can’t help with any extermination advice, and it’s been quite a while since I dealt with any single-family rentals, but I’m thinking that a single family lease can place the financial burden of things like extermination, lawn care, shoveling, etc. onto the tenant. However, it doesn’t absolve the landlord from the requirements of the warranty of habitability. While it might be your responsibility to bring in exterminators as needed, a persistent infestation that cannot be cured through ordinary means (and that isn’t your fault) might be grounds to get out of your lease early.

    I’d check with someone like the volunteer lawyers at the DC Court Landlord/Tenant Resource Center before I did anything, but you might have some leverage here.

  • Hey there…I am actually guy that posted the original bed bug horror story that PoP includes in this intro. Moving out of a place isn’t always as easy as it sounds (at lease it wasn’t for us as homeowners) so if you do want to stay, follow some of the great advice included here and in all of the responses to our post.

    If it’s any solace…we were in the exact same position as you are (with neighbors as the source of our bed bug issue) but after treatments by a quality pest control company, we’ve been bug free for about six months and counting.

    But you have to treat the house…and if your landlord doesn’t want to support those costs…you might mention to him/her the many “bed bug registries” on which you can list the address that renters are increasingly looking to for histories of potential rental units. Sometimes you gotta play hardball

    Good luck…those of us who have been through this know it’s way beyond a personal and financial inconvenience…it’s psychological torture that can affect your life deeply.

    You are not alone!

  • Bedbugs do NOT migrate. They must literally be carried from one place to the next. So your neighbors having them isn’t an issue unless you invite that neighbor in for tea.

    Most leases have terms that “tenant caused” issues are the tenant’s, not the owner’s, responsibility which is why your property management said it sucks to be you. This is NOT grounds to terminate your lease. (Off the record, if you don’t mind losing your sec deposit leave with 2 months to go and let them know why. The owner will pay the lawyer more to chase you than your rent would cover. Then it’s his issue to solve.)

    Your best bet is to ask the owner if they will contribute to the cause since you did the last one and HAVE THE ENTIRE PROPERTY EXTERMINATED NOT JUST YOUR ROOM. Also call the company who was to exterminate and let them know. (Yelp em if they aren’t helpful.) Once your place is treated again, (because it will def need to be) limit outsiders who travel extensively.

    • Trust me brother…bed bugs can migrate from one row house to an adjoining house. They come through tiny cracks in floor boards, moldings, and electrical outlets. You think they can’t maneuver through the porous brick of a 100-year old row house?!?!

      My neighbor lights up a cigarette, and I can tell you what brand he’s smoking…

      • This is my understanding, as well. Our neighbor had them and we had her ask her exterminator if we should have our house treated in order to prevent them from migrating over. The exterminator said that preventative treatment wouldn’t really help and that we just had to wait and see if any of the more persistent little buggers made it through cracks in the party wall. So apparently they do migrate.

        But 3 months later, they haven’t yet .

    • Bed bugs absolutely can migrate amongst rowhouses and apartments. That’s why the only way to treat apartments is to do the whole building. And why if you neighbor in a rowhouse refuses to treat, you’re screwed and should move.

      You are right about treating the whole house.

      But have you been living under a rock? The bedbugs we’ve got in DC aren’t coming from travelers; they’re coming from your friends, the book you picked up off the street, the person who sat next to you on the bus, going to the movies, etc. They’re everywhere!

    • “How Infestations Originate
      It often seems that bed bugs arise from nowhere. The bugs are efficient hitchhikers and are usually transported in on luggage, clothing, beds, furniture, and other items.”

      Thanks for the link. This is exactly what the four exterminators my company has used claim is the cause. Not neighbors.

  • “Bed bugs prefer to hide close to where they feed. However, if necessary, they will crawl several feet to obtain a blood meal. Initial infestations tend to be around beds, but the bugs eventually may become scattered throughout the bedroom, occupying any crevice or protected location. They also may spread to adjacent rooms or apartments.”

    The original infestation of the neighbors house or your house sure… carried in on something.

    “Once bed bugs are introduced, they often spread throughout a building. The bugs can travel from room to room or floor to floor either by crawling or via a person.”

    “Since bed bugs can disperse throughout a building, it often will be necessary to inspect adjoining rooms and apartments.”

  • I went through a similar situation at the Crestwood Apartments at 3900 16th NW. Four years and never a problem and then BOOM!, our apartment became infested.

    After months of chemical treatments, we decided to hire Connnor’s Pest Protection to do an inspection. They figured that the bugs were coming from the cracks in the floors, and we’d never be rid of them until the whole complex would be treated.

    Luckily we were month to month, and could move. Connor’s has a fumigation chamber at their HQ they can place all of your belongings and gas for a day or so. They also inspected our new apartment before we moved in. Between the fumigation charge and paying for movers twice (they need to take it there, bring it back, and gas the moving truck) it’s expensive, but the piece of mind knowing that there was zero chance we’d bring them with us was worth it.

    If your landlord is a champ, he’ll let you out of the lease. If not, I’d save up and suffer for the rest of your lease.

  • I have used they were amaising, and price was great. the process is about 6 weeks!

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