Tenants and landlords are struggling with a city policy that divides responsibility for bedbugs.
If only one apartment is affected, the tenant must pay all the costs for extermination, Building Inspector Eric Shilling said. But if bedbugs are found anywhere else — even in a hallway — the landlord is responsible for the entire bill.
Extermination isn’t cheap. Exterminators who spray must often return three or more times. Those who use heat often can eliminate the bugs in one day, but the service costs more.
At Superior Bedbug Service, owner Chris Wild said it would cost $850 to treat the typical one-bedroom apartment.
Tenants have been stunned by the prices.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Deb Rembert, the leader of a citywide tenant organization.
She said many tenants would not be able to pay it. Landlords said they don’t think the tenants can pay, either.
“There’s no tenant who can pay that,” said Chris Morris, leader of Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change. “He [Shilling] can say that, but get it to happen? Like blood from a stone.”
Other landlords said they worry tenants are moving out to avoid the bedbugs and unwittingly bringing them to other units. That spreads the problem further.
The longer they wait, the harder and more expensive it is to exterminate the bugs, according to Wild.
“They spread like wildfire,” he said. “If you get it soon, you can get it all. If you have a zillion bedbugs, it’s really hard.”
In those cases, he said, exterminators generally have to return for more treatments.
Both Morris and Shilling said tenants are to blame for most bedbugs.
“By and large, the people we are talking about are people who are not so careful about their surroundings,” Morris said.
Bedbugs are widespread in the Northeast — even hiding in library books, hotel rooms and upscale homes. Morris acknowledged that was true.
“But how many of them go to hotels?” she said.
Shilling said he came up with the rule because many tenants called to complain their landlords wouldn’t pay for extermination.
“We had to do something, and it was common sense, knowing people do bring furniture in from stray places, they visit places that might not be the cleanest,” he said.
Experts agree the two best ways to prevent bedbugs are to never bring in furniture from the curb and to wrap boxsprings and mattresses with special bags. The bags can be purchased from Amazon for $8.
SLIC advises landlords to ban furniture scavenging, according to its sample lease. But Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said anti-bedbug bags might be the long-term solution.
She suggested landlords be required to have bags on hand to get their rental certificate. The bags prevent infestations by stopping bedbugs from climbing up a bed to feast on an unmoving human.
If bugs are already in the mattress, they will die after the mattress is enclosed by the bag for a year, as long as rips are immediately covered with duct tape, according to New York City health officials.
Perazzo said landlords might see the cost of a few bags as an investment.
“It would prevent or contain an infestation,” she said.
Wild has found his own way of negotiating the argument over who will pay for extermination.
“The tenant never has any money. The landlord needs to protect their asset. Eventually, they’re going to move out, and the landlord is going to be stuck with the bill anyway,” he said. “I always try to get people to split it.”
Morris agreed. Rather than living with bedbugs, she said, tenants should explain the situation to their landlord.
“It seems to me if there was a decent relationship between the tenant and the landlord, at least [the cost] should be discussed,” she said. “Maybe it could be shared.”