Dodging a Bullet

Almost two weeks ago, right when we got back from Disneyland, our tenant informed us that he had bedbugs. He had one in a bag, to prove it.

He had evidently learned of the bed bug situation a week before, and had actually taken considerable steps to control the situation and prevent spreading. By the time we entered his unit, all his clothes were in large Ziplock bags, his bed was in the middle of the room, his mattress and box spring were encased, the legs of his bed were covered in double sided sticky tape, and the feet of his frame were in interceptors. He had also put down a chemical treatment (we didn’t know that at the time).

We called an exterminator to come inspect the house. We weren’t sure if we had them as well, but none of us had been bitten (although only 50-75% of people even react to bed bug bites, so we couldn’t go on that alone), and I saw no signs of them on our mattresses, so we held out a tenuous hope that we were safe. Our appointment was a week out (first one they had) so we spent the days silently fretting, bagging up all the stuffed animals, moving the beds from the walls, and putting the feet of our bed frames in diatomaceous earth. I bought XL and XXL ziplock bags and a bunch of plastic containers and started to pack up clothes we didn’t use regularly.

By Wednesday I was feeling pretty sure that we didn’t have bedbugs, and hoping the exterminator treatment of our tenant’s unit wouldn’t go much over the $3K minimum I had been quoted. Then, my husband found three bites on his arm. Three bites, right in a row. The moment he showed them to me, my hope dissipated. Three bites in a row is the tell tale sign of bed bugs. I was sure we had them; now I just hoped it was only in our room.

We had to tell our parents at this point, because our son’s birthday party was supposed to be at our house on Sunday afternoon, and we knew they wouldn’t want to come over. My in-laws immediately retracted an invite for our son to come over the next day (they’ve had bed bugs before and are terrified to get them again). My poor son was crushed, and my worst fears of how people would fear and avoid us if they ever knew, were validated. I was really overwhelmed and depressed.

Friday came and the inspectors came with it. They found more bed bugs in our tenants apartment, but they were all dead. (At the time this caused great confusion because we didn’t know yet that our tenant had used a chemical treatment.) They looked all over his apartment, taking the staples out of the box spring and shining lights into the cracks around the baseboards, but found no other signs of bed bugs. They didn’t find any trace of them in our house either.

Without finding live bugs, the exterminator could not recommend a treatment. We dodged a $3K+ bullet, at least for the time being.

Our tenant, who has been hard for us to work with when he believes there is a problem–we’ve had to call out PG&E when he believed the heater didn’t work (it did), we’ve had to call in a plumber when he said the water didn’t get hot (you just have to wait a while), we had to call out a service man when he didn’t think the stove turned on (he wasn’t doing it right, and wouldn’t believe us), he’s even made us change light bulbs and the batteries in his fire detectors because he couldn’t “figure it out” — still thinks we should get his unit treated. He also believes he got the bed bugs from mice (we still have some in our garage) or from feral cats (his unit shares outside walls with the backyard), and no amount of explaining that bed bugs don’t travel on cats or mice will convince him otherwise. This is frustrating to me because he DID bring them in from somewhere, and if he really didn’t leave the city, like he claims, he got them from somewhere he’s likely to visit again, which means he could bring them back.

Yesterday we had a dog come and sniff for bed bugs, just to be sure. The dog didn’t “make an alert” so at this point we can assume we are free of these incessant pests. I feel like I won the lottery, I am so relieved. Not only do we not have to spend thousands of dollars getting our unit, or our own house, treated, but we also don’t have to spend months living out of sealed bags, washing and drying everything on hot, and sleeping with the beds in the middle of the rooms. We are so, so lucky we didn’t get bed bugs. I will never travel again without taking steps to mitigate the possibility of bringing them home.

Moving forward, I am going to get allergen covers for the kids’ beds. We already have a good one on our mattress and pillows because I am allergic to dust mites, and it gave me a lot of peace of mind to know they couldn’t get through that and take up residence in our actual mattress (evidently allergen-barrier covers can keep bed bugs out, but will not keep them in if you already have bed bugs, which can bite you through an allergen-barrier cover). I also already got a bed bug encasement for the wooden platform our mattress sits on, just to be safe. Neither of my kids’ beds have box springs, so protecting their mattresses is all I can do.

I can’t tell you the weight that has been lifted since we learned we don’t have bed bugs. There is still a part of me that worries they will come back, but mostly I’m just relieved. Things are still crazy, and I just got some really bad news at work, but honestly, everything else pales in comparison to learning we aren’t dealing with such an dauntingly impossible pest. I am so, so thankful we aren’t dealing with bed bugs. It would have been such a nightmare. What a bullet we just dodged.

Have you ever had bed bugs?

What bullets have you dodged lately (or ever)?


  1. Bed bugs are a big fear of mine. They are difficult to get rid of and doing so requires a level of isolation. I’m sorry you had to go through that, but what a relief you don’t have them!

    Regarding your renter: I would consult a lawyer about your rental contract and then call a meeting. I agree with you that he’s likely going to return to the source of the issue and the feral cat and mice excuse means he’s trying to deflect from the cause. In my eyes, I think you have reason to raise rent on him to offset this behavior, but I would speak with a lawyer first. Tenant rights are well enforced, but given the history you may have grounds.

    Good luck!

    1. Some potentially useful links:

      This in particular: Tenant-Induced Bugs
      Sometimes a tenant’s behavior brings bugs into the home. A dog-induced flea infestation or a cockroach problem caused by the tenant’s messiness are examples of tenant-induced bugs. A landlord is still required to get rid of the bugs, but may add the cost of pest control to the tenant’s rent. If the tenant does not pay this sum, the landlord may sue the tenant or retain a portion of the tenant’s security deposit.

      Basically, you have grounds to charge him for any pest control treatments as you have evidence only his unit was effected and he’s requesting additional treatment. I would get an estimate and inform him in writing that this is your intention. I suspect he will quickly back peddle. And if there’s another infestation, you have grounds to charge him for the problem.

  2. Ugh, so frustrating! I deal with bedbugs at work and sometimes have to visit people’s apartments to verify they’ve correctly prepped for the exterminator. I am always afraid of bringing them home. I’m told work will pay to treat my home if that happens, but the hassle would still be huge! I’m glad your tenant took the right steps this time.

  3. Oh man, bed bugs are a huge fear for me as well especially with three small children and all that would entail. My mother-in-law has had them twice so a couple people at work have brought them home from traveling (my biggest fear). Thank goodness it was taken care of quickly and you did dodge the gigantic bill. Super annoying to have such a hard to please tenant.

  4. Ick! From what I’ve read they’re almost impossible to get rid of , do whew!

    I’d try to lose the tenant..

  5. I agree with first commentor. Talk to a lawyer who specializes in tenant/landlord issues. Arrange to either pay tenant to leave AND/OR raise rent. You have said in past the rent is lower than normal in San Francisco, however this tenant is proving to be far more expensive to house than normal AND IS APT TO RE-INFECT HIS SPACE AND YOURS in the future. Get legal advise first!!!!! Then go for it. And ask market rate rents in the future.
    Good luck, you are going to need it.

  6. Oh boy, this post is so timely for me because I found bed bugs in one of my son’s bed frames over the weekend. Our working theory is that they came home on his “blankie” from a recent hotel stay. Yuck!

    Yeah, dealing with this is a major pain in the a$$. I’m sorry you are going through it.

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