The Cost of (Almost) Getting Bed Bugs in Los Angeles

Three months ago, my boyfriend and I made the decision to move in together. We serendipitously found a perfect, large two-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms in trendy Los Feliz. For this area in Los Angeles, $1,600 for rent is an absolute steal for a place this size. We had to take it; even after the landlord raised the monthly rent a paltry $60 in exchange for some much needed kitchen updates. The building left its heyday 50 years ago but, despite the cracks and cheap repairs, it still has charm.

We couldn’t believe our good fortune. How was this gem so unbelievably affordable?

Well, two months later, my boyfriend and I discovered we had bed bugs. OK, so maybe we didn’t have bed bugs per se but, our friends—whom we had convinced to move into our dream apartment complex—had just moved into the apartment adjacent to ours, certainly did.

It was only the second night in their new apartment when I received a text from Erin, “We have bad news,” followed by a graphic video of giant bed bugs squirming around in a plastic bag.

There was no mistaking this captured family of bloodsuckers. Erin and Ben definitely had bed bugs.

Terminex was summoned for the following morning, and we all went to bed with crawling skin. It only took Sako, our exterminator savior, a few minutes to assess the situation. Apparently, the bed bug community in #20 had been living a peaceful and fruitful life for well over a year, and the only solution was to tent the entire building. Horror crawled up our spines.

Bed bugs in Los Angeles? Isn’t this a New York problem? Apparently, it’s a bigger issue in the city than I’d realized.

Ben and Erin scoured themselves, left their belongings, and fled to a hotel, for which they banked on our landlord reimbursing them. My boyfriend Jacob and I panicked. We hadn’t met the landlord yet, and had only heard terrible things from other tenants. And our building manager, sweet as can be, was often times ineffectual. We assumed the worst: Our landlord would never spend the five figures necessary to fumigate. My mind immediately turned dark, we would have to move—again, just two months after we did it the first time.

Although we didn’t have bed bugs just yet, it was only a matter of time before they fulfilled their little tiny manifest destinies and headed west through the walls, and into our home to make meals out of us. Did you know that bed bugs will only feed on human blood, and can live up to one whole year without a “blood meal”? This is the stuff of nightmares kids.

We quickly calculated the cost of moving from a bed bug infested apartment complex, which included loading up a truck and fumigating it for four days, in addition to regular moving expenses like movers, packing materials, security deposit, and first month’s rent. Renting a truck for four days was about $400, and fumigating was another $500. It sounds excessive, but with bed bugs you really can never be too careful.

And, we weren’t. The day after we discovered the code red situation at hand, my boyfriend and I headed to Bed Bath & Beyond to load up on supplies. The cashier rang us up for $400 worth of bed bug armor that included both a bed bug proof mattress and box spring cover, pillow case covers, bed bug spray, traps, and about 25 space bags. At home we applied the protective covers, sprayed everything worth spraying, and vacuum sealed the contents of the closet, which shared a wall with our afflicted neighbors. There was just no way to know whether we had bed bugs or not at this point so we had to do whatever we could, even if it was just a placebo.

I began looking for new apartments, growing dizzy at the thought of hiring movers, scraping together a new security deposit, and an inevitable increase in rent to stay in the neighborhood. I put my foot down. Moving was just out of the question, so we fought.

Jacob and I became tenant vigilantes, printing flyers presenting phone numbers for the health department, yelling at the landlord, berating our building manager, and rallying more than half the building to demand that that we fumigate. All 24 units had the right to know what was happening in these decrepit walls.

(Also, I really, really couldn’t afford to move again.)

Miraculously, our guerilla protests were met with a tenting scheduled for a week and a half later. And, although we weren’t going to feel completely safe from the apple-seed-sized terrorists until we saw a circus tent over the building, I began taking our belongings out of space bags and returning the rumpled shirts to their hangers. I was able to return three boxes of giant vacuum-sealed bags and the bed bugs traps we never used back to Bed Bath & Beyond. I decided it was probably a good idea to keep the very expensive mattress covers, so I only got about $150 back.

And even though $300 off our rent for the month was all we were offered for the four-day inconvenience, I didn’t complain. I found a guesthouse nearby on Airbnb for $100 per night, but our compensation certainly didn’t cover food, gas, detailing one of our cars, or even the $167 it took to board our cat. At that point, any mildly troublesome expense felt like couch change compared to moving again.

At the end of the day, we only lost $500 to getting bed bugs (almost), when our landlord had to shell out $14,000 (the bill was accidentally sent to Erin and Ben since they made the initial call). But that figure doesn’t include the greatest cost I incurred: Unfortunately, for the rest of my life, bed bugs will be a permanent fixture in my wheelhouse of worries.

But, at the very least, I now have the knowledge to prevent and handle a bed bug infestation (catch them alive, put them in a plastic bag, and call an exterminator immediately), and I feel proud of the fact that I really have earned my cheap-ass rent.

 

 

Heather Sundell lives in Los Angeles. This is her blog.

Photo: Ben Seidelman

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

TaffetaDarling (#5,031)

Bedbugs are such a nightmare. In the weeks leading up to Christmas I suddenly started getting bites—my boyfriend didn’t show signs, though he was certainly getting bitten—and we had to call in Terminix. (We’re in Chicago.) The distress bedbugs cause is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Thank goodness you guys came out okay; we were able to clear up our problem by January, and they haven’t returned. Good luck in the future! At least you’re now bedbug savvy. Keep that mattress cover on, always!!! Seriously, don’t ever take it off. Preventive measure.

kellyography (#250)

After a scare that two really shitty, expensive dermatologists SWORE was bedbugs (but was actually a weird viral rash that affected just half the people in my house), I got those mattress, box spring, and pillow covers. Totally worth it, just for the peace of mind.

When we had bed bugs last summer we also had to front the costs of two bed bug proof mattress covers plus bed bug storage bags for our clothes after we washed them for around $400, plus in order to quickly and effectively high heat wash everything we had to go to a laundromat instead of using our small in unit w/d, so that was another $30 plus hours of our time. They only treated one bedroom in our two bedroom apartment so we just stayed in our guest room with the cats while they treated the other room. The condo association paid for the treatments, and since the landlords said we weren’t inconvenienced by moving, we did not get reduced rent.

I am still bitter. We are moving May 1.

@JNC Musings Factory OMG. That is so terrible!! I am glad you’re moving because that is straight up bogus. I can’t believe they only treated one room.

squishycat (#3,000)

@Hezah Sundell@facebook When we had a bedbug scare they only treated the bedrooms – but the exterminator who came in also couldn’t find a sign of them. (I found a single live one on my shoe, which precipitated the whole thing.) We washed or heat-treated everything we could and bought the mattress and pillow covers, and there’s been no sign of them since, so I guess it was a fluke?

Ahhhh bedbugs! We get at least one patient per day in our ER complaining of bed bug bites, and not only do we have to tell them we can’t do anything for them except say “yep, that looks like bed bug bites”, after they leave we have to shut down and deep clean that room, which takes up a lot of resources that’s could be spent on sick people. And I still find live bed bugs after patients from time to time.

For the love of god, do not bring your bed bugs to the ER.

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