Night night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite. They’re the subject of a night-time children’s rhyme that everyone’s heard but not everyone knows that bedbugs are actually A Thing and that they’re a thing that’s becoming increasingly problematic for landlords.
What are bedbugs?
They’re small, wingless insects that feed off humans. Yes, they suck our blood while we sleep, hence the nursery rhyme. They’re not dangerous, but they cause nasty, itchy spots.
They’re nocturnal and once they’ve had a feed they hide in the seams of mattresses, between floorboards, in furniture or even in clothing.
They’re good travellers , moving quickly from one room to the next, even better floors, and are easy to transport (unseen) in suitcases, clothing, bedding and furniture.
Didn’t bedbugs die out midway through the last century?
Far from it, in fact, they are growing in numbers, especially in hotels, hostels and other short-term accommodation with high traffic levels, so we need to be on the look out for them.
So why are bedbugs a problem for landlords?
Bedbugs are fairly easy to attract (see above) but a nightmare to get rid of. They usually have to be killed with lethal chemicals, which will involve vacating the property for 2 to 5 weeks. That’s 2 to 5 weeks when you can’t charge any rent, plus the cost of the fumigation will make your eyes water. Sometimes you’ll also have to dispose of mattresses and other soft furnishings, depending on the level of the soft furnishings. You might even have to chuck away wooden furniture.
Blimey, how do you get bedbugs?
They’re usually brought into a property on people’s clothing, in bedding, or in furniture, especially mattresses or sofas where they like to live and …errm…breed.
How can you avoid getting bedbugs?
It’s hard because they travel so easily (see above), but you can limit the risk by taking the following steps:
- Never ever buy second-hand mattresses, sofas or other soft furnishings which could be harbouring bedbugs. I’m certain I got bedbugs from a storage unit with fabric drawers which a tenant bought from a charity shop.
- If you ignore the above advice, inspect furniture carefully for bedbugs and those tell-tale black spots.
- Steam clean mattresses, sofas and curtains between tenancies and check for bedbugs.
- If tenants come straight from a hostel, make sure they inspect sleeping bags and clothes for bedbugs.
- If they have overnight guests who bring their own bedding, ask your tenant to inspect it for bedbugs, especially if they’ve been backpacking or staying in hostels.
How do you know if you’ve got bedbugs?
Usually tenants complain of being bitten, often at night. If they do, inspect mattresses and sofas etc, especially in the seams around the edges where they like to hide. Bedbugs can be hard to spot, they’re only about half a millimetre long, so look for tell-tale black spots.
What do you do if you’ve got bedbugs?
ACT FAST! Once you’ve identified that they are bedbugs (see photo), you need to decide whether to use an off-the-shelf spray or bring in a pest control company with their big b******* chemicals, which will cost about £100 to £300 depending on the level of the infestation. If it’s only minor, a DIY spray might work, but they don’t always. If there is evidence of bedbugs in one room, you might get away with treating only that area but they do travel quickly so be prepared to treat the whole property.
Some professional pest control firms use heat treatment instead of chemicals to kill bedbugs. I’ve no experience of these but if they work, they might be a good alternative to chemical fumigation.
If the company uses a chemical spray, the property will have to be vacated for up to 5 weeks. Clothes and bedding will have to be washed at high temperatures and bagged up until the treatment is finished. Mattresses, curtains, sofas etc will have to be steam cleaned. For a widespread infestation, you might need to chuck out mattresses and even wooden bed frames if there’s evidence bedbugs are living in them.
Does the landlord or tenant pay for the fumigation?
It depends on whether they brought the bedbugs into the property or if they were already there. As bedbugs can live for up to a year without a feed, it can be hard to ascertain that a property is bug-free when tenants move in, but if you’ve steam-cleaned and inspected all soft furnishings before the tenancy starts and you’re certain there’s no evidence of bedbugs at the outset, the tenant should pay for the fumigation.
However, it’s important to act quickly to eradicate the problem, otherwise while you’re arguing the critters will be breeding so maybe splitting the cost is the best option.