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Policies requiring landlords to disclose a rental unit’s history with bed bugs may raise costs to landlords over the short-term, but over the long-term they are an effective way to reduce infestations and lower costs, according to a study by researchers at Iowa State University.

A team of university researchers has developed a mathematical model to evaluate the costs and benefits of city and state policies requiring landlords to report recent bed bug infestations to prospective tenants.

That model says this: Disclosure is an effective control policy to reduce the prevalence of infestations. It can lead to modest, five-year cost increases to landlords, but ultimately results in long-term savings to landlords. Disclosure also saves tenants money from the first year of implementation. Disclosure also could reduce the threat — and cost — to private homeowners of spreading infestations.

During a series of workshops related to the study, the researchers heard real stories of bed bug infestations. “Some of these stories were heartbreaking,” said Chris Rehmann, an Iowa State University associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering and a member of the study team. “That’s part of the appeal of this study. We’re doing something that makes life better for people.”

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March published a paper reporting the researchers’ findings. The corresponding author is Michael Levy, an associate professor of biostatistics, epidemiology and informatics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Co-authors are Rehmann; Sherrie Xie, a doctoral student who’s also at Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine; and Alison Hill, a research fellow for Harvard University’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics.

Rehmann, whose civil engineering work usually involves studies of rivers and lakes, was brought into the study for his expertise in mathematical modeling and his prior work with the initiator of the bed bug study, Daniel Schneider, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (which is funded by the National Science Foundation) was the primary supporter of the study. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health also supported Hill’s work. The NIH also supported the work of Levy and Xie.

Leaders in some cities and states — New York City; San Francisco; Mason City, Conn.; and Maine — have passed policies requiring disclosure of recent bed bug infestations.

The researchers’ model said disclosure can make a difference: “Our results show that bed bug control is a classic collective action problem: Individual landlords bear the initial costs of disclosure policies, but after a few years, both landlords and tenants will benefit from the reduction in prevalence of infestations,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The researchers said their model could also be used to evaluate policies to control other household pests.

“We’ve demonstrated,” Rehmann said, “that we can help people develop good policies to reduce the prevalence of these pests.” Source: Iowa State University News Service.