October 24, 2008

Students wary of Hyde Park bedbug infestations

Last week, MAC Property Management made a payment of $736 to Smithereen Pest Management for extermination and prevention of bedbugs in a Hyde Park apartment complex that houses at least 30 University students. At least one other apartment complex in Hyde Park has been infested since this summer.

Who knew that something so small could cause such a big problem?

Bedbugs, which, until the 1940s were “a fact of life,” according to David Harris-John, vice president of Smithereen Pest Management, were mostly eliminated in the 1950s with the use of harsh chemicals.

However, since legislation was passed banning the use of these chemicals due to their environmental and health risks, bedbugs have been on the rise again.

In a neighborhood near Hyde Park, which Smithereen would not name to honor confidentiality, Harris-John said employees are waging a war 40 hours per week to eradicate the pests from 400 units in an apartment tower.

Contrary to stereotypes, bedbugs are not caused by poor sanitation and are not a problem endemic to any sort of demographic. Except maybe college students.

College students are susceptible because they are constantly traveling, moving apartments, adopting each other’s furniture and clothing, scavenging, and buying used items, according to Peter Cassel, director of community development for MAC Property Management.

In one Woodlawn Avenue building, residents have refused to let the exterminator back into the apartment, jeopardizing the ability of the other residents to pursue a bug-free living situation. According to one resident, the tenants have had to threaten their landlord that they would not pay rent in order to assure that the landlord would deal with the problem.

However, according to Cassel, it is the management company’s responsibility to guarantee a bug-free living space for its residents. According to the desk attendants, the Flamingo has an exterminator on staff, and Regents Park said they would take responsibility for extermination. Both attendants reported that there had been no reports of bedbugs in their buildings.

Since the first case of bedbugs was reported to MAC Property Management, the management company has had Smithereen identify and exterminate the infested unit and inspect the three apartments around it.

A week later, three other apartments in the building reported bites. Smithereen came and inspected the units but found no signs of the bugs.

According to MAC Property Managment’s official chronology of the bedbug incidents, “On the credibility of the resident report, MAC Property contacted another pest control company,” who inspected the three units on Thursday, October 23.

Residents of these apartments could not be reached to report on their findings.

Not everyone notices bedbugs, even when they have them.

“Some people have no reaction at all—one of our exterminators was hosting them for months without knowing them,” Harris-John said. One member of an apartment may be getting bites while the others don’t notice them at all.

If you think you have bedbugs, the first step is to call your landlord. Extermination is a collaborative effort between landlords, exterminators, and tenants. The tenants have to prepare the apartments, the exterminators must exterminate, and the landlords pay.