By Sarah Dryden
Last month former Angeleno Heights residents Leslie and Laura moved to Los Feliz, signaling the couple’s defeat in a battle against an unwanted, blood-sucking house guest: Cimex Lectularius, more commonly known as a bed bug. The landlord had agreed to hire an exterminator, and the couple had thrown out most of their belongings – including their bed, rugs and curtains – to eliminate the risk of future infestation. But Leslie and Laura eventually decided they had to leave Angeleno Heights even before their new apartment was ready.
“We were kinda losing it at that point and were stuck until we could find another place,” said Leslie. “ We ended up leaving early and just stayed in a hotel.”
Bed bugs, which feed on the blood of their human hosts, have become a growing public health problem in recent years. The Bed Bug Registry has reported 403 current cases in the City of Los Angeles compared to 4,490 in the New York metro which has the highest reported cases of bedbugs in the country. But Los Angeles has been catching up with New York, leading pest control company Orkin to rank Los Angeles as No. 5 on its most recent list of the nation’s “Top 50 Bed Bug Cities.” Last week, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles held a “Beating Bed Bugs Seminar” that included a team of dogs trained to sniff out bed bugs.
Some people once speculated that bed bugs played a role in spreading leprosy, oriental sore, Q-fever, and brucellosis, and possibly staph infection. Today, however, bed bugs – disgusting as they might be – are not known to cause any diseases. But a bed bug infestation can be monetarily and emotionally draining.
While bed bugs have turned up in motels, single-family homes and even buses, the spread of bed bugs in an apartments complex can signal the beginning of a blame game between landlord and tenant, with both parties refusing to accept responsibility for the issue. In an attempt to protect the rights of renters, New York State has implemented new laws such as the Bedbug Disclosure Act which was signed into law in 2010. The Act requires that landlords inform would-be tenants if there have been any insects found in the building in the past year. Los Angeles, however, has not such law.
When Brian and Micki, a Silver Lake couple, discovered bed bugs in their 1920s apartment about two years ago, their landlord accused them of bringing in the bugs. The landlord did not feel she was responsible for taking care of the problem, and kept the couple’s $1,500 security deposit to cover the cost of a second fumigation. Brian and Micki also got stuck with a $500 junk removal fee to dispose of many of their belongings.
“Bed bugs are expensive,” said Brian, who estimated that the couple’s estimated cost in handling this ordeal was a little more than $3,000 – not including all of the possessions they lost.
In contrast, Laura and Leslie did not suffer as large a financial hit after they found bed bugs in their Angeleno Heights home. But the experience took an emotional toll. After Laura had been complaining about strange bites for a few weeks, she and Leslie flipped over the mattress as they were changing sheets and noticed a little brown bug, which turned out to be a bed bug. There were other brown bugs – dead and alive – as well as little black spots in the corners of the mattress and wooden bed frame.
After discovering bed bugs, Leslie and Laura immediately took their mattress and bed frame apart and tossed them onto the street in front of their apartment building. They now realize this was a terrible idea since many unsuspecting people take abandoned furniture to use in their own homes. “We just panicked and wanted it out of the apartment” said, Laura.
The couple captured some of the bugs on a piece of tape so an exterminator could verify they were bed bugs. Leslie, who moved into the apartment about two years ago before she began to share it with Laura, contacted her landlord immediately. “He was prompt in responding although was quite blasé and relaxed about the whole thing,” she said.
The landlord hired his own exterminator, who confirmed that the insects they had found were in fact bed bugs. He had discovered a few nests and said the infestation was mostly located in the bedroom walls, bed and side table. “The exterminator was only in the apartment for 15 minutes, sprayed and left. He was confident this one-time treatment would “obliterate” them and they shouldn’t have any more problems,” said Laura.
Over the next few days, Leslie and Laura became increasingly paranoid and ended up throwing out the majority of their belongings: their mattress, bedding, side tables, rugs, designer chair, books, suitcases, curtains, shoes and boxes stuffed with old papers, cards and mementos. Since bed bugs are able to survive many months without feeding, the couple placed some irreplaceable and sentimental items into vacuum-sealed bags to be kept sealed for 18 months.
Leslie and Laura also spent many long hours at their local laundry washing and heating their clothing in an effort to kill the bugs and eggs, which die in temperatures in excess of 12o degrees, according to the Mayo Clinic. A combination of high temperature and exposure time has proven to be effective in destroying the bugs.
During this process the couple decided it was best to just move out. They spent their final days in the apartment sequestered in their empty living room, where they slept on an air mattress in the middle of the floor surrounded by plastic trash bags.
The couple’s new Los Feliz apartment remains sparsely furnished. They have only added a few brand new items – including an air mattress – but say they’ll never buy vintage or from second-hand store because they remain too afraid of getting used items that might be infested with bed bugs.
The new apartment complex had them sign a contract that stated the apartment had “NO BUGS”, and Leslie and Laura had to sign saying they too were “Bug Free.”