Honest landlords can cut bedbug infestations

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Policies requiring landlords to disclose a rental unit’s history with bedbugs are an effective way to reduce infestations and lower costs over the long term, research finds.

That’s even if they may raise costs to landlords in the short term, according to a new study.

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

Bedbugs have re-emerged as a national and worldwide problem over the past 20 years, the researchers write. New York City, in fact, estimates that the annual prevalence of bedbug infestations is 12 percent in some neighborhoods.

The bugs feed on human blood, causing itching, rashes, allergies, sleep loss, and anxiety. Infestations also cause psychological, social, and economic problems. And the bugs are very difficult to eliminate from homes.

That’s why leaders in some cities and states—New York City, San Francisco, Mason City, Connecticut, and Maine—have passed policies requiring disclosure of recent bedbug infestations.

The researchers’ model says disclosure can make a difference. “Our results show that bedbug 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 write in their paper.

The researchers say their model could also evaluate policies to control other household pests.

“We’ve demonstrated that we can help people develop good policies to reduce the prevalence of these pests,” Rehmann says.

During a series of workshops related to the study, the researchers heard real stories of bedbug infestations, their effects on people and the struggle to get rid of the biting, blood-hungry pests.

“Some of these stories were heartbreaking,” says Chris Rehmann, an associate professor of civil, construction, and environmental engineering at Iowa State University. “That’s part of the appeal of this study. We’re doing something that makes life better for people.”

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Additional coauthors are from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. Support for the work came from the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (which the National Science Foundation funds), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Iowa State University