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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Battle with Bed Bugs

The Low-Down

I attended a shareholders’ meeting about new designs and colors for the lobby and common areas of a large building. At the meeting, residents repeatedly kept bringing up bed bug problems. I was listening and realizing that the board had knowledge that bed bugs were on multiple floors but decided not to address the situation except for weekly visits from an exterminator.  I pleaded with the board to have management investigate and work with us at an emergency pace. Most of the building was discovered to have bed bugs, but many owners were not allowing access to their apartments. These bed bugs were spreading as more and more owners refused access. Both companies called it the worst case of bed bugs they had ever seen, and both companies concluded that these bed bugs were on their second cycle.

We negotiated down prices with two exterminator companies that we had worked with in the past that had gotten results. We started court cases to gain access into those units suspected of having bed bugs or next to any unit that had bed bugs confirmed.

The Weigh-In

We needed a multi-pronged program: the first step was to acknowledge that we had a problem; the second was to educate the board that if it didn’t act, the situation would get worse and worse. The board’s big concern was money. Although on the Upper East Side on a fancy street, this building lacked large reserves and many residents were not in a financial position to assume a large assessment. We developed a plan where we did just enough inspections with less expensive materials. With the court cases having commenced, access was finally given. The board had now been motivated to realize that if money was not spent, a cost-prohibitive amount of money would be needed in the future. At the same time we wanted to keep law and order and not have word of the bugs spread outside of the building. Constant updates were given to residents and that kept the calm.

The Outcome

The war against the beg bugs was won. After many months, the building is 95 to 99 percent “clean,” according to the exterminator. Weekly exterminations and inspections continue.

The Take-Away

Bed bugs are the most damaging and costly city dwellers. They’re also very expensive to eradicate and extremely difficult to prevent from making themselves at home. Buildings must attack this enemy aggressively upon arrival. Expert exterminators need to be brought in, and legal cases for access must be commenced against residents who refuse access to inspect and remediate.

There’s one really big lesson – take bed bugs seriously. They’re not going away, you can’t hide from them, and they don’t discriminate. Some of the richest buildings in New York City have bed bugs. You just don’t hear about them. It’s simply one of those things people don’t talk about.

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