Monday, September 10, 2012

Bed Bugs Part 1: The Story

I was waiting for the bed bug ordeal to be over and my apartment security deposit to be returned before talking about it here. So now that it is safely past me (at least this time...because there is no guarantee that I won't get bed bugs again when they are so prevalent in New York) ...

There are two kinds of bed bug infestations. In the first one, you notice a couple bugs and bites and get sprayed right away, a few times over the course of a month and a half. You don't experience any bug evidence after the first spraying, so after the last one you can feel secure that the problem is gone and go back to normal living. This is how it seems to go for most people. It didn't go that way for me.

In the second scenario, the landlord ignores bed bug complaints for too long and doesn't handle the situation properly, which allows them to infest the whole building. I only know of a few other cases like this. 

Our building supposedly had bugs a year or so prior, and then they popped up in one apartment again, but the landlord ignored it for months before bringing in an exterminator. For some reason, those particular tenants didn't care enough to do much of anything about it, so their infestation spread to other apartments and continued to persist. Neither the landlord nor my downstairs neighbors understood the value of a preemptive, comprehensive approach. The landlord refused to spray the whole building on the same day. He hired an exterminator who would only come to our place on his days off from his regular job. Then he had his handyman "trained" as a secondary exterminator, who did a terrible job. Also, it was weird being in a text-friendly relationship with the exterminator that got so friendly he asked my roommate out on a date.

Our landlord also pressured me into not reporting him to the city, insinuating he would withhold our deposit. And since all I ultimately wanted was to be able to move out and get my security deposit back without spending time or money in the court system, we didn't report him. So now that I'm no longer fiscally or legally tied to him, I can say that Marek Kaczor is a bad landlord. It wasn't just the bugs. There were constantly things going wrong, like no hot water for a week, no heat over Christmas, no working oven for a month. Our neighbors downstairs said they had taken out two lawsuits against him. Unfortunately for renters, he owns several buildings in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area, mostly rented by Bedford Prime Realty.

I would have liked to just move out of the building, like many of the other tenants did within a couple months. However, my roommate refused to move - and I couldn't very well sublet a room with bed bug risk, I didn't want to pay double rent to live somewhere else, and since my roommate was my best friend, I couldn't just leave her to deal with figuring out how to cover my rent. 

Instead, after three months, the landlord realized it was probably because bugs could hide in our cracked floors. So we moved across the hall into a fully sealed apartment while he redid our old apartment. Things got better there, but knowing that the apartment below us still had bugs meant I could not, nor would I ever in that building, trust it was safe to take my stuff out of bags.

We finally moved out in May, two months short of our lease. Ultimately, it turned out for the best that we waited until the spring to move. By then, we hadn't had any definite bites in a couple months, so we felt relatively confident that the bugs were gone and we wouldn't be taking them with us. Which meant I didn't have to throw out or store away my stuff, or spend a month's worth of rent to fumigate all of my belongings, all ideas I had previously, angrily considered.

You can be sure that when I went hunting for a new apartment, I was thorough about checking into the landlord. Most people by now know about the bed bug registry. But in New York City, you can also search an address in the city's public database of building registrations and violations to look for past and current complaints, violations, and lawsuits, and to find out the landlord's name so you can google for any dirt to be found on them. I always ask the broker/landlord/current tenant if there has been any history of bugs or other problems. There is also a disclosure of bed bug history form the landlord is required to complete if you ask for it. See the city website for more on the laws related to tenants' rights and landlord obligations regarding bed bugs

This experience also taught me the value in trusting your gut when looking for a new apartment. My gut didn't feel good about choosing this apartment in the first place, but we took it anyway because we felt like options and time were running out. In Part 2 tomorrow, I talk a bit more about how this experience tested my patience and my sanity.


  1. Bedbugs are the worst. Luckily it is not yet a major problem in Richmond - but I actually ended up in the ER twice due to a bed bug infestation in a hotel in Maryland. Apparently, I'm super allergic to their nasty bites.

  2. Oh, Julia. I'm so glad you're in a new place (and well enough informed to know how to catch it early, because yes, realistically we could all encounter them anytime). A couple years ago we had someone get them in our building and then wait several months until it must have been unbearable and then MOVE OUT without telling anyone about it. At which point they spread all over the place in search of food and it was hell. Months and months and months of hell.

    And we currently have a family member dealing with them, which brings it all up again. We're trying to make sure everyone we love is well educated and knows what to look for and understands that they can ask for help and they'll get it without being treated like lepers. We inspect our bed monthly just to be safe and I still have complete freak outs if I find a suspicious looking bite or mark on my skin. There's a certain degree of PTSD happening.

    I have to admit I love the compulsion to have a completely fresh bed at all times. I still follow the recommended regimen, so I tumble our comforter + pillows in the dryer once a week when I wash our sheets. If I'm stressed, I wash them every three days. Which is crazy, but such a nice side benefit.

  3. oh that is so crappy. i had a friend in university who had bedbugs in her dorm room. all her stuff was in garbage bags and she slept in the common area of friend's rooms for months.
    I'm so glad that you have it worked out, and it's a shame the landlord threatened your deposit.

  4. I can't even imagine the bedbug problem. I feel so bad that you had to endure that hell. I do understand crappy landlords, though. We had an apartment that had termites so bad that they were chewing through the gypsum board. Every time they made a hole, we would cover it with tape. Our entire bedroom was like a giant walk-in ant farm except with termites. The landlord came in and had the holes filled with putty and re-painted. That's it. Needless to say, they came back.
    I am so glad that you are finally free of that place!

  5. M Eileen - that's terrible that you reacted so badly! i'm sorry you had to go through that.

    Rachel - that is ridiculous that they didn't tell anyone. i don't know why some people can be so inconsiderate of others when we live in apartments and all share the same problems in the same building. unlike you, i certainly didn't keep the compulsion to do laundry all the time. i'm so over laundry now.

    Miz November - wow we don't hear about termite problems here. that sounds like it would look comical if it wasn't so annoying to deal with.

  6. You don't need to ask for the disclosure. The law requires the landlord give you a disclosure form automatically if they had an infestation within the prior year. The law was designed to protect tenants from becoming unwitting victims.

  7. Hi, I'm about to sign a lease with this landlord. I don't mean to disclose your previous address but can you please tell me if the building number was 143?

  8. Nope that wasn't my address. You can check the bed bug registry and the nyc housing complaint portal to see any complaints about your building. Good luck! He is a shitty landlord but there are too many shitty landlords in New York.

  9. Hi Julia, do you still have Marek's contact info? Email or phone?

  10. having a slew of problems with this landlord currently, can you tell me how you were able to get out of lease early?

  11. I am having the worst luck receiving my security deposit from this landlord. If anyone can provide me with relevant contact information, it will be greatly appreciated.