Editor’s note: This article previously appeared in an issue of PCT Canada. To learn more, visit https://www.pctonline.com/page/pct-canada/.
Successful control of bed bugs in multi-unit housing requires partnership. The pest control operator, tenant and property manager must all work together to achieve results.
Doug Smith, president of Apex Pest Control in Milton, Ont., likens this alliance to a three-legged stool. If any one of the partners fails to deliver, the stool falls over, he explains.
Property managers (PMs) have different skill sets and levels of experience when it comes to bed bugs. Generally, they want more communication, more options and more sensitivity from PCOs in dealing with this issue, says John Dickie, president of the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations. “Many of us are relying on the expertise of the PCO and the experience of the PCO,” he reminds.
Dickie shares 12 ways PCOs can better support their partners in property management:
1. BE OPEN AND UNDERSTANDING. “Understand that we are kind of in the middle,” says Dickie. PMs are obligated to resolve bed bug problems quickly, but the process can take multiple inspections and treatments and things can go wrong, such as issues with unit access, reintroductions of the pest or treatment failures. Whatever the problem, be honest. “On our side, we should understand there are difficulties; on the PCO side, they should try not to be defensive,” says Dickie.
2. PARTAKE IN TENANT MEETINGS. While some landlords merely post notices of impending treatment for bed bugs, PMs of large buildings and members of the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations, in particular, hold tenant meetings on the issue. They want PCOs to help explain the bed bug situation to residents, the treatment process, what they can expect and their roles in preparing units.
3. PROVIDE INSTRUCTIONS. PMs want clearly written treatment and preparation instructions to give to tenants ahead of time as needed. Ideally, instructions would be translated into the top three to five languages spoken in that particular city, says Dickie. Post-treatment instructions should inform tenants what to expect, when to be ready for a follow-up visit, what signs of bed bug activity they should report to the PM, why they should not try to control bed bugs themselves with over-the-counter products and how to prevent reintroducing bed bugs to their homes.
4. BETTER AT CUSTOMER SERVICE. At tenant meetings and when working in units, it’s important to be respectful, discreet, non-judgmental and to let people vent when they’re frustrated or worried, but not be overly apologetic either. “If you’re skillful, people can be angry, but you can still send them away much more informed and much more cooperative because you’ve heard them; you’ve listened to their concerns,” says Dickie.
5. SEND REMINDERS. PMs are busy handling a host of building-related issues. Remind them about upcoming inspections, treatment and follow-up visits eight days in advance, and then remind them a second time two to three days before the service visit, suggests Dickie. This helps ensure PMs have time to give tenants 24-hour notification of entry and to arrange site preparation assistance for elderly and infirm tenants.
6. BE A LITTLE FLEXIBLE. Even though it’s the property manager’s responsibility to get tenants ready for bed bug treatment, it would be helpful if PCOs had flexibility to rearrange the day’s treatment schedule instead of skipping a unit because the tenant is notoriously tardy or recalcitrant and not ready for service. Perhaps stop by that unit first for a face-to-face reminder and then come back later in the day. “There’s nothing like the person turning up with their uniform and their personal protective equipment and their can of spray” to get tenants to act, says Dickie. “We should probably be giving a notice of entry for a five-hour period instead of an hour to two to accommodate delays,” he adds.
7. TARGET SITE PREPARATION. Preparing sites for treatment is the “biggest hurdle” for PMs. But instead of tenants having to turn entire apartments upside down, they’d like to see more targeted prep requirements so there is less work for tenants, greater compliance and a faster path to treatment.
8. PASSIVE TREATMENT IF NEEDED. “Certainly, access to units is a problem,” admits Dickie. If PCOs cannot get into units suspected of being the source of the bed bug problem, PMs would like to see tactics employed to protect adjacent units. Such “passive” treatments might involve applying diatomaceous earth behind the baseboards of neighbouring apartments to stop bed bugs from moving into them. “If you’ve got a tenant you can’t get rid of who’s got bugs, well containing it at least is a big help,” says Dickie.
9. DELIVER CLEAR FEEDBACK. “It would be very helpful if the pest control company tracked the volume of activity in the building and the activity levels in different units,” says Dickie. Likewise, give PMs a reference point for low, medium and high levels of infestation. Such data helps them anticipate and coordinate next steps, whether that is treatment for a single unit or the inspection and treatment of all adjacent units, the entire floor or whole building. As well, help PMs understand the difference between a bed bug reintroduction and an ongoing, unresolved problem.
10. MAINTAIN CONSISTENCY. PMs want technicians from the same company to handle processes the same, says Dickie. All technicians should follow standards of operation, whether that is how units are treated, work is documented or inspections reported.
11. GET PROACTIVE. Forward-thinking PCOs have embraced IPM, including proactive pest inspections. The City of Ottawa has mandated an IPM approach, and other municipalities could follow suit. PMs who embrace proactive inspections have found “it’s much less cost” to find and treat small bed bug problems than it is to treat full-blown infestations. It also avoids excessive pesticide use and site preparation, says Dickie.
12. OFFER A MONITORING ADD-ON. A “creative offering” that PCOs might provide is to rent bed bug monitoring devices to PMs so they can verify turnover units are free of bed bugs before new tenants move in. “Believe me, when new tenants move in to bed bugs, they’re not happy campers,” says Dickie.