Property managers often ask technicians, “When can I rent this hotel room?” or “When is it safe for new tenants to move into a previously infested unit?” These are difficult questions for technicians to answer and they’re loaded with liability. “The inconvenient truth is that there is no way to know for sure,” Larry Pinto, entomologist and publisher of the industry newsletter Techletter, told attendees of PCT’s Bed Bug Virtual Conference last year. Even following aggressive, repeated service, some bed bugs and eggs can survive. Clearly, many hotel rooms go back into service before all of the bed bugs and eggs have been killed.
Keeping rooms vacant for long periods of time isn’t the answer, although some hotel managers think it is. Remaining bugs will simply wait for a new host or move to adjacent rooms, or both. Bed bugs are less active and their locations more unpredictable the longer a room is vacant.
There are ethical and legal consequences for both the hotel management and pest control company associated with the decision as to when to put a hotel room back into service. Bed bug service calls should take this into account. Treatment options may include installing bed bug monitors in the vacant room to actively attract bed bugs. Inspect rooms using a bed bug canine scent detector in conjunction with active monitors before you release it into service. Don’t just allow the hotel to put the room back into service without having the option to check it and neighboring rooms again. Include a comprehensive follow-up inspection and service program for a few weeks.
The only situation more challenging than deciding when to put a hotel room back into service is when to re-occupy a residential property that was vacated with an active bed bug infestation.
Tenants may terminate their lease and leave after they discover they have bed bugs, without telling management. Property managers may first learn that an apartment has a bed bug infestation when maintenance staff prepares the unit for the next tenant.
Try to eliminate a bed bug infestation before a unit is vacated. Property managers should consider requiring, upon lease termination, a pest inspection to be conducted before the resident leaves. If the inspection uncovers evidence of bed bugs, there may be time to eliminate the problem before the resident moves. If the infestation isn’t discovered until after the resident vacated, you’ll need aggressive measures before putting the unit back on the market.
“The longer the unit remains vacant, the greater the likelihood that any bugs will migrate into surrounding units in search of a blood meal,” Pinto said.
Consider steam cleaning carpets, particularly edges and joints, before insecticide treatment. One option is to temporarily remove the baseboards and moldings to enable a more thorough application and eliminate protected harborage. Spray residual insecticides around the perimeter of all rooms and the intersection of floors and walls. Install active bed bug monitors. Regularly check them and inspect the unit. Consider using canine detection before the unit goes back on the market. Inspect neighboring units regularly for one month after the vacant unit is re-occupied.
Include bed bug inspections with routine service calls to avoid the sensitive issue of bed bugs. To protect yourself legally, keep detailed records of every action to demonstrate that you’ve taken reasonable steps to minimize the risk of bed bugs.
The author is a Florida-based freelancer who frequently writes for PCT.