Bed Bug Basics for Multi-Family Housing

Bed Bugs have arrived with a vengeance in the Portland Metro area. Pest management firms specializing in bed bug treatments have seen a dramatic increase in calls and if the experience of other professionals across the nation holds true the problem is only going to get worse. In fact, several states are currently seeking legislation in an attempt to slow down the spreading of these bothersome pests. To get a sense of the growing problem, visit Although the information may be limited it will give you a feel for what we may be up against.

Not Your Average “Bug”

99.9% of the time pest management companies can deliver solutions to problems with pests in the multi-family environment. Treatments for ants, rats, mice, roaches, and other pests are well established and include strategies that utilize modern materials that deliver effective relief. Not so for Bed Bugs.

Even with cutting edge materials and advanced training pest management firms specializing in Bed Bugs find it difficult to get a satisfactory result. Materials and strategies that work for other pests simply will not work on Bed Bugs, leading to the search for “silver bullet” remedies. Heat treatments, steam and freezing are all only partially effective, in varying degrees. The reason is, they cannot penetrate deeply hidden sources and provide no residual protection. These treatments are used mostly to supplement the use of pesticides and cannot be relied on as sole means eradication. To date there is no legitimate treatment for these insects without the use of pesticides, regardless of claims to the contrary.

Bed bugs can be present in an apartment and survive without a meal for more than six months. Bed bug adults and nymphs feed exclusively on blood, but they do not feed every day. When inactive they return to deep harborages, protected from most control tactics. Eggs do not hatch for 7-10 days after being deposited. The end result is that new bugs may hatch and enter the environment over the two weeks following treatment and bed bugs may emerge from untreated, deep, safe havens. Also it is impossible to starve out an infestation by not renting a unit for a period of time. The bottom line is that professional treatment is always needed.

Steps You Need to Take to Manage Bed Bug Issues

Bed Bugs are easily transported and hard to find initially. They are routinely reintroduced into treated areas by hitchhiking on backpacks, bedding, or salvaged items. We see the highest incidents of bed bugs in low income, subsidized housing because transient behaviors encourage the spreading of these pests. To help prevent their introduction it is critical that residents be screened before introducing items to their apartment, particularly mattresses, futons, box springs and bedding. If possible buildings experiencing problems with bed bugs should require or provide residents with bed bug-proof mattress and box spring covers. Residents should be discouraged from picking up discarded furniture from dumpster areas or on the street. This is a sure way to introduce bed bugs to the building.

Bed Bugs thrive in “clutter.” Most insects have a certain range of conditions and areas that allow them to survive. Pest management professionals know how to capitalize on this weakness to get rid of most pests. Bed bugs can reside and hide in any area of an apartment and on any surface or item, particularly bedding, and the surrounding area. Residents that have excessive clutter provide many hiding areas and “amplify” the intensity of the infestation. Residents should be encouraged to keep open spaces, free from excessive furniture, décor and general clutter. Storage areas should be limited to closets and only a few pieces of furniture such as dressers, cabinets and night stands. Managers should be aggressive in enforcing sanitation standards and develop written agreements with residents before they move in. Our most successful treatments are done in buildings that have ultimate control of the resident’s environment, such hotels, motels, residential assistance agencies, etc. We rarely have continuing problems under these controlled conditions.

The truth is that when bed bug infestations reach a certain size or allowed to get out of control, even the best, most aggressive actions often fail to meet expectations. It is critical that early detection and action is taken to deal with bed bugs. Management should set up a routine bed bug inspection program with trained pest managers. Bed bugs spread rapidly and can move between walls and floors easily in search of their next meal. All surrounding units of an infested unit – above, below and beside – should be treated. This will isolate an infestation and keep it from spreading. The more quickly you respond to a bed bug issue, the better the results because early detection is critical.

Property Owners, Managers and Residents Are All Part of the Solution

Owners and management play a critical part in bed bug control. A common reason for bed bug treatment failures is lack of cooperation, which can range from tenants not preparing correctly for treatments to property management not following the recommendations made by pest management firms. Cooperation by property owners or managers is critical, allowing inspection of adjoining units, instituting common house keeping practices, and inspecting new residents belongings and beds. These are just three examples of management measures, that, if not taken, will complicate control efforts and may make complete elimination of bed bugs difficult if not impossible.

Resident cooperation with the pest control service is also critical. Residents may need to completely empty all closets, dressers, and nightstands, wash all clothing and linens in hot water and dryer settings and place them in plastics bags in the living room. Resident’s beds may have to be stripped of blankets and sheets and washed and dried with highest heat setting.

Most pest control companies are new to the bed bug wars, and some may not respect the challenges presented by bed bug biology and behavior. As a result, companies who don’t seek advanced training or education or who don’t specialize in bed bugs are learning on the job, which can make matters worse. Look for pest management companies who specialize in treating bed bugs, for advanced certifications, and ask how many treatments they have performed. A pest management company that specialized in bed bug control should have training in place for technicians specifically for the treatment of bed bugs. If your pest management company does not have this training in place, as well as specific bed bug documents and protocols in place, you should consider bringing in another company.

People have unrealistic expectations. People inexperienced with bed bugs rarely understand the difficulty in controlling them. Managers of hotels or rental properties, owners of rental furniture companies, and homeowners typically do not appreciate the investment needed in terms of dollars, time, cooperation and patience in order to achieve success. They often are unwilling to pay the price necessary, in terms of dollars and effort, to achieve results. It is not uncommon for those suffering from a bed bug infestation to go price shopping for pest control, and go with the lowest bidder, which unfortunately often costs them money in the long run. Bed bugs infestations require a company that is well versed in all aspects of bed bug control, and this rarely comes at a low price.

Another issue is that properties that first experience problems with bed bugs view it as an isolated incident, rather than a potential crisis which requires intensive inspections and treatments of surrounding rooms or the entire building. Management often refuses to commit to the operational changes needed to get control. They tell their “exterminator” to “get rid of those bugs – that’s your job!” It’s not that simple.

Compounding the problem, city and government agencies don’t really understand the dynamics of bed bugs, how they are introduced and how to treat them. They often hold building owners and property managers responsible for the social dynamics that cause bed bug infestations. Agencies that help low income residents also inadvertently (sometimes knowingly) spread the problem. Community health organizations are just now coming up to speed and their knowledge is mostly limited to basics of Biology and identification. They know little about practical applications and effective treatments, especially in the multi-family environment.

Placing blame at a single point in the equation of how bed bugs spread can’t be done. It is difficult at best to determine exactly how bed bugs were introduced, legally speaking. While owners and managers try to hold particular residents financially responsible for treatments, residents are seeking legal advice. The other problem is that while management is waiting to treat while trying to determine who is responsible, the bed bugs are rapidly spreading. It is much less costly in the long run to take care of the problem immediately, without getting into the blame game.


Hopefully this information about bed bugs and the steps you can take to identify and address the problems they cause will help create a better understanding of this growing epidemic. This information is the current standard in the pest management industry and is reflected in industry trade publications, references and source books on the subject. There is much information on the internet, but beware – while some of it is good, most of it is misleading. It is advised that you seek help from a pest management firm who specializes in bed bugs.

About Halt Pest Control

Based in Beaverton, Oregon, Halt Pest Control delivers honest, reliable and eco-friendly pest control services to residential, multi-family and commercial customers throughout Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. Halt invests in building relationships which allows us to deliver pest control solutions, not just treatments. You see, at Halt we believe that we do more than simply help you eliminate pest issues. We deliver customer care with quality solutions that help you protect the things that are most important to you: your family, your home and your property… guaranteed.

Rob McMaster is the President of Halt Pest Control, Inc. You can reach him at
Halt Pest Control, Inc. © 2015. All rights reserved.