Bed Bug Advice for Rental Property Owners and Managers
Response Protocols: Which one should you use?
When responding to potential bed bug problems, there are generally two ways property owners/managers discover they have a problem in a rental unit:
1. Complaint based response protocol: This procedure is simply waiting for someone to complain they have seen bed bugs in their home, or that they are getting bites, and upon receiving their complaint the owner/manager responds to the complaint by having the home inspected by their pest control company.
2. Inspection based protocol: This procedure involves having your pest control company conduct pro-active inspections of every unit to ensure you know exactly which units have a pest problem, and which units do not, on any given day.
While the complaint based protocol seems more cost effective, it can cost you alot more in the long run. The reason is because unless it has been inspected, you really do not know that a particular apartment has a bed bug problem. Residents often do not report a bed bug problem for many reasons ranging from they themselves don’t realize they have one, to being afraid they’ll be charged for remediation, to fear they’ll be evicted or even shame.
Meanwhile, this resident or their family members are visiting residents in other units on your property, or carrying property out to the dumpster that will likey be brought back in to another unit, infesting other units, turning what was an infestation in just one apartment into several infestated apartments, costing you more money.
Experts from Entomologists Gail Getty and Dini Miller to attorney Jeff Lipman all agree property owners/managers and pest control companys must take a “total property approach” when dealing with bed bugs, and must use a inspection based protocol to best mitigate their risks of bed bug infestations, and reduce the total cost of bed bug remediations annually.
Additionally, these inspections should provide you with documentation (inspection reports) that you can use to benchmark the earliest date an infestation could have occured, giving you the tools you need to manage the back end issues after the remediation is complete (claims from the residents, lawsuits, recovering remediation costs, etc.) Receiving and maintaining these inspection reports is very important.
For my customers who have had no or low instances of problems with bed bugs, I recommend the following inspection schedule: Take the total number of units on the property, divide that by twelve. Add to that number the average number of vacancies per month you have, if your average is zero, then add 1. That is the number of units on your property that should be inspected every month. This will ensure every occupied unit is inspected annually, plus all vacant units.
Properties that have significantly more instances of bed bug infestations may need a more aggressive inspection schedule. Your pest control operator can advise you as to what schedule is most appropriate for your situation. If you have questions about your specific situation, you are always welcome to contact me directly with your specific questions, I’m always happy to help, even if you’re not in my area.
This inspection protocol will provide you the information and the documentation you need in order to control the costs and risks of bed bug remediation.
There are really two kinds of inspections you’re going to be able to receive from a pest control company.
1. Visual inspection: This is usually the least effective kind of inspection. The reason is because bed bugs often hide in places where they cannot be seen. That’s what they do to survive so they can reproduce. If your pest control company shows up without a flash light, or after inspecting suggests you should have a treatment but cannot show you any evidence of an infestation, you’re working with the wrong pest control company.
2. Canine Assisted Inspection: Properly selected, well trained dogs can help us find bed bugs where they cannot be seen. They are the best tool we have for finding hidden bed bug infestations, or low level bed bug introductions, which is what they makes them so valuable to your inspection based protocol. A person conducting a visual inspection does not tell you there are no bed bugs in there. It just tells you that person didn’t see any. The dog, while not infalible, gives us a much higher level of certaintly that there is no bed bug problem in any particular unit.
The property owners/managers that are on the leading edge of effectiveness with regard to mitigating the risks and problems associated with the resurgence of bed bug infestations in rental properties, use an inspection based response protocol, and they use canine teams to conduct those inspections.
Important considerations when using bed bug canine teams: You really don’t have to get into the weeds of dog training to make sure you are working with an effective canine team. The following tips will help steer you clear of the problems that are most common with working with canine teams:
1. Certication: Ensure the canine team you are working with is certified by an “independent 3rd party” certification organization. Independent 3rd party means the organization is not connected financially to the pest control company, or to the company that provided or trained the canine team for the pest control company. My favorite certification organizations are WDDO and NESDCA. You really should ensure your canine team is certified by at least one of these organizations.
Think about it like this: You’d want your property manager to be certified, right? Either by the CAA, NAA, or IREM. Well you want your canine team to be certfied too, either by WDDO or NESDCA.
2. Verify their claims: Many dog teams claim to be certified when they are not. If they are certified, they will be listed on the website of the certification organization. All it takes is a few clicks of your mouse to verify they are certified.
3. Watch the dog team work: It’s ok for the team to ask you to remove the residents of the rental unit, but they really shouldn’t insist on working the dog without any oversight. There should be no problem with one property owner/manager following behind the canine team watching them work. Now when you’re watching them work, you will need to remain behind the handler as they work, and follow their polite directions so you don’t get in the way or distract the dog, but as long as you remain as still and quiet as possible there should be no reason why you shouldn’t be able to watch the team work, and ofcourse there are many reasons why you should. If they wont let you watch, get yourself another pest control company or dog team.
4. Working Indpendent: One of the main things you’ll want to watch for is that the dog works indpendently of the handler. When finishing searching an area or encountering an obstacle, it’s ok for the dog to look to the handler for direction once in a while, but you want to see a dog that is eager to work, and works on their own without needing direction or encouragement from the hander. Even though the handler is a huge part of the dog team, from the dogs perspective, we want to see the dog forget the handler is there and focused on finding that odor on his/her own, without any input from the handler. There are of course exceptions to this rule, and there are times when a dog handler will need to step in and take control of the dog, and a good dog handler will know when this is necessary, and when to stand back and let that dog do it’s job.
4. Show me the bugs! When your pest control company recommends a bed bug treatment, regardless of whether they are using a dog or not, you should ask them to show you the bugs! Or at least, show you what is leading them to recommend a treatment. The less scrupulous among us may recommend a treatment when one isn’t appropriate. You can protect yourself from this by making your pest control company comply with the NPMA best practices guide that recommenations for treatment should be based on visual confirmation of bed bug activity, not based solely on a dog alert.
Think about it like this: Most bed bug dogs are trained just like police dogs are trained to find drugs or bombs. When a police dog alerts, the officer cannot arrest the person involved based on the dog alert alone…. The officer has to physically search for and find their target substance in order to punch that ticket, and we should too. Make sure your pest control company visually verfies dog alerts before making recommendations to treat. If they do not, get yourself another pest control company.
I sincerely hope this article has helped you. If you ever have any questions about pests, or pest problems, feel free to reach out to me. I love talking about pest control, and I love helping people, and I’d enjoy helping you too.