• A bedbug nymph feeds on its human host. Commercial property experts suggest preparedness, education and training as a best defense against the scourge of bedbugs invading the nation's hotel rooms, apartment units and business offices.  

    Credit: Piotr Naskrecki, Harvard University

    A bedbug nymph feeds on its human host. Commercial property experts suggest preparedness, education and training as a best defense against the scourge of bedbugs invading the nation's hotel rooms, apartment units and business offices.  

If you’ve got apartments in Detroit, it’s time to start paying attention to your elected officials and their take on bed beg infestations at multifamily properties. According to Clifton Slaten, a partner at Montgomery, Ala.-based Slaten Law, there is currently Motown legislation pending that will make it a property owner’s responsibility to respond to and mitigate complaints of bed bug infestations within five days, or risk the city getting involved directly and sending the owner a bill for services rendered.

“There is legislation being proposed in Detroit and elsewhere that will make landlords responsible for bed bug issues,” says Slaten, who joined a panel of other attorneys and representatives from the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA), Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), and the National Apartment Association (NAA) for a webinar on bed bug problems and solutions, sponsored by Orkin. “Indifference to the situation will be punished,” Slaten says, “and one way to avoid that is to proactively develop a knowledge and management plan with a pest professional.”

Webinar participants largely echoed Slaten’s sentiments, and were unanimous in opinion as to the severity of the bed bug crisis in commercial real estate, particularly in hotel and multifamily assets, and likewise concurrent in their advisement that firms develop a risk management plan for tackling the issue. “We have been proactive on education because you need to know what to tell your residents,” says NAA director of state and local government affairs Scot Haislip. “If you don't have proper training or education, you can be dealing with a significant reputation issue not just at that particular property, but across several states if you are a multi-asset owner.”

In the hotel sector, bed bug mitigation and its associated threats to brand management have become a front-and-center issue facing property owners and managers who were nonplussed by the pests until a recent surge in reports of infestations. “It’s had a tremendous impact; it’s something that five years ago wasn’t even on the hotel radar screen, but like the apartment sector, our operators are discovering very quickly that they need to be proactive and train staff,” says AH&LA senior vice president for governmental affairs Kevin Maher. “Every rumor and incident, whether true or not, needs to be handled very quickly to preserve the image of that property and the brand as whole.”

Despite the heightened awareness of bed bug infestations, no one is quite sure yet how big the scourge has become in real terms. “Insurance companies are very nervous. They cannot measure it, and they cannot distinguish between real numbers and hysteria,” says Michael Weisburger, president of Richmond Heights, Ohio-based pest control insurance and risk assessment firm Planet PCO Insurance Group. “The jury is out, the real numbers are still unknowable, and the truth thus becomes what the media and people in general say it is.”

At NAA, the association has yet to look at efforts to verify and tabulate reported bed bug incidents in the apartment industry, preferring instead to devote resources to its traditional outreach and education roles. “We don't track numbers, but we have 170 state and local affiliates and we get calls on this issue every single day,” Haislip says. “So it’s definitely not fake; it’s for real.” According to Haislip, the majority of those calls are concerned with treatment options and how property managers can incorporate protective language into lease agreements.

For apartment owners who have had the unfortunate opportunity to deal with bed bug remediation at a property, webinar panelists suggested candid disclosure of incidents during the leasing process, particularly with prospects who ask direct questions on current and historical infestations. “If someone asks a direct question, use common sense, and don't lie,” Haislip says. “Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up for a gross negligence suit if the issue returns.”

Editor’s Note: For more information on Orkin’s Bed Bug Business Plan, including whitepapers and a recording of the webinar, visit http://www.bedbugbusinessplan.com.