The Cost of (Almost) Getting Bed Bugs in Los Angeles
by Heather Sundell
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.
Photo: Ben Seidelman