SF Apartment : January 2016


The Great Elimination

by Theodore

I never met a bed bug I wanted to shake hands with—or any one of its six legs, for that matter. Despite my years of dealing with all kinds of messes and situations as a resident manager, my revulsion toward these creatures remains the same: they still scare me out of this room and into the next one.  

I do not do statistics. Too many numbers. But if I had to speculate, I’d say some 99 percent of all normal souls hate the little critters. The exception to my unscientific analysis would be those professional purveyors of pest prevention—the Bug Men. Now, don’t get me wrong; I never met a Bug Man I didn’t like. Many are very pleasant if you treat them like the professionals they are. Unfortunately, that means you should not call them “Bug Men.” I never learned to follow my own rule.

Typically, these professionals appear on your premises once a month to monitor and destroy the ordinary creepy-crawlies that you may see (or not) mostly during the evening and night hours. There was a time when spraying was the Bug Men’s remedy of choice. However, this approach disturbed your pet’s sensitive nose or yours, so the pros switched to a goop from a squirt gun that they leave in an out-of-the-way place in your apartment. And this tactic seems to be sufficient for every one of these night wanderers—except the bloodsuckers who are the subject of our column.  

Rare is the building that has not been invaded. Even more rare are those tenants who tell you on a timely basis that they have indeed been invaded. Several years ago, during a routine monthly visit, I discovered a long-time tenant was playing host to our fair friends in his somewhat messy apartment. When I asked him why he hadn’t reported the bloodsuckers, he replied that he didn’t want to bother me. He seemed perplexed for reasons that only he could understand as he asked me what should he have done instead. “Bother me!” I answered.

After an arduous, three-stage cleanup effort, my clueless tenant finally got the message. I could work up very little sympathy on his behalf for all the clothes he had to dry clean or wash in extra-hot water. The threat of the spreading problem was contained, however.

Going forward, I resolved to do a better job of getting out the message before, rather than after, the fact. I thought about sending out a memo, but no one reads memos—especially ones written on such a sensitive subject. Talking with each tenant proved a most difficult way to accomplish my goal, though I tried; I really did. Most tenants showed interest until their eyes clouded over, a time span of some 90 seconds on the average. Again, this is my unscientific reckoning, but close enough to the truth, I think.  

However, there remained one group whose attention I could command. Incoming tenants are actually eager to learn about their new apartment. These new tenants, dutifully signing their name or initialing everywhere on their lease, could not show a lack of interest. And a form dealing with the subject is already part of their lease.

A Captive Audience— What Could Be Better? 
When I talk to them, I begin by saying that there is no blame. It doesn’t matter whether these problematic creatures originate in the ancient walls of the building. It doesn’t matter that tenants might unknowingly bring them into the apartment. Think, I say to the new tenants—you might sit on a park bench or plop yourself down in a move theater seat. Who knows who has sat in that seat before you and what it harbors?    

Most importantly, when I have these new tenants’ full attention, I drive my point home, returning to the bold statement I made to that clueless tenant all those years ago. “Bother me if you aren’t sure what’s happening in your apartment!”  
The message is received. Who cares where these bloodsuckers came from? No one does. They are a problem that must be dealt with. And before I can end another sentence in a preposition, my tenants enthusiastically agree to tell me of their slightest suspicions.  

One by one, I am getting to them. It is amazing how tenants perk up when there is a scary story that appears in the media. As time and circumstances permit, I speak to many of my long-term tenants. I try to raise their awareness and also to emphasize that they must tell me about any activity of this kind in their apartments. Tenants are the first line of defense.  

Maybe vigilance pays off. Maybe it’s luck. I don’t know. In my building, it has been some two years since we had a report by a tenant. No one is foolish enough to believe that the critters have left San Francisco because the rents are too high. Many buildings do have trouble. While the Bug Men do not outnumber their prey, there seems to be no lack of work for them in the city.  

But don’t tell the lawmakers in San Francisco that. They are hard at work writing rules for the rest of us to follow. As usual, it falls to people like resident managers to carry out their wishes. Are you aware that resident managers cannot identify whether we have been invaded? That pronouncement is reserved for the Bug Man. He is the professional. I am not. Nor is any resident manager.  

Well, something is sucking my blood, tenants who’d lived here for many years told me, back when we did have a problem. First, I complimented them on the shrewdness of their observation, and then, I called my Pest Professional. For if we are to solve this problem professionally, I think it’s time to refer to that nice man by a nice name.  

We have always followed the proper protocol: three basic treatments separated by seven to ten days each, with the same consideration given to apartments to the left, right, above and below the source of the problem. The Pest Professional explains how these tenants must wash or dry clean their clothes. I try to explain why it might be good to cut down on inviting people over for a short while. No one is happy, but the job gets done.  

About three years ago, San Francisco added another wrinkle to the health code. Basically, resident managers are now required to furnish to any prospective tenant—should they ask for such—a written history of the apartment’s infestation during the past two years. Of course, there is a form for this, separate from the form that is part of the lease. If there has been no infestation in that two-year window, the same asked-for form must reflect that. Whether or not there has been an infestation history, the form must be signed by the resident manager and the prospective tenant before occupancy. If the prospective tenant does not ask about the history, the subject need not be brought up.  

Speaking of bringing things up....Have you noticed that except for the first sentence of this article, no mention of bed bugs has been made? That is because I believe you are like me, and cannot stand to hear the term. With a both a subtlety and an effort that I hope you appreciate, I have avoided calling them by name. 
You cannot ever be sure that your building is free of bed bugs, but I have managed to almost eliminate them from my column.  

“Theodore” is a resident manager with some two decades of experience and has been a professional writer and editor for much longer than that.