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Tenants, landlords struggle with rise of bedbugs in the Syracuse area

Complaints about bedbugs are on the rise in Syracuse and environs, so much so that a tenant advocacy group had a seminar on Oct. 11 for landlords about debugging a property.

Response has been so strong, the workshop may fill up.

"It appears that there's an epidemic of bedbugs particularly on the North Side of Syracuse," said Sharon Sherman, executive director of the Greater Syracuse Tenants Network, which is presenting the workshop.

But it isn't just the North Side. Sherman says she is getting calls about bedbugs from people who live elsewhere in the city, in Solvay and Liverpool, too. She gets 15 tenant calls a week and roughly 20 percent of them are about bedbugs.

Corey Driscoll, deputy director of code enforcement for the city, says complaints about bedbug infestations have been going up for the last two years. From September 2010 to April, the city handled roughly 18 bedbug citations and from April until now it handled 30, Driscoll said.

In most cases, building owners will act to get rid of the bugs when the city is called in, Driscoll said. But when they do not respond, declaring the dwelling unfit to live in doesn't solve the problem because if tenants move before the infestation is cured, they can carry the bugs with them, she said.

"We've been advised by the health department and housing agencies that it's not good to move tenants around," Driscoll said.

The Onondaga County Health Department does not track or deal with bedbugs because they don't spread disease, but it offers advice and gets calls, which have been up for the last couple of years, said Kevin Zimmerman, director of the county's Division of Environmental Health The calls are mostly from the city, but not exclusively, he said.

Landlords blame tenants, and tenants blame landlords for infestations, but both sides will have do some work and spend some money to stomp out the bugs.

The small, blood-eating insects are extremely difficult and costly to get rid of, and landlords don't always do what it takes to eradicate them, although it is their legal responsibility to do so, Sherman said.

The only way to get rid of bedbugs is to hire a professional exterminator, who will need to do multiple treatments, Sherman said. It can cost $1,000 to rid an apartment of the bugs, she said.

What is a bedbug?


Common bedbug, Cimex lectularius


It lives on human blood, but can survive on some birds. The bugs feed every three to 10 minutes.

What they look like:

Newly hatched bedbugs are semi-transparent, light tan in color, the size of a poppy seed. Adults are about a quarter-inch long, roughly the size of a large apple seed.


A female lays five to seven eggs a week and, if fed, will lay 200-500 eggs in her six-to-12-month lifespan. Eggs take 10 days to hatch.

Dangerous to me?

Bites tend to appear as red, swollen bumps, sometimes with little dips in the middle. Commonly found on arms, tops of hands. They don’t carry diseases.

How to avoid them:

Never pick up bed frames, mattresses, box springs or furniture found on the street. When traveling, inspect hotel beds and furniture. Keep suitcases off

the floor and inspect them before you leave

Do I have them?

Look in mattress seams or creases in upholstery or box springs. If you find droppings — little black dots — you may have bedbugs. You may also find an actual bedbug.

What do I do?

Wash and dry your clothing on hot settings and store it in a sealed plastic bag. Contact a pest control company to exterminate your home. Over-the-counter products rarely work. A two-bedroom apartment costs about $1,500; a home, about $2,000, but varies depending on home’s size and state of infestation.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control, New York City Health Department

Tenants must wash all their clothing and bedding in very high heat and encapsulate their mattresses in special plastic covering, among other steps, Sherman said.

Tenants don't always do their part, said Jay Holman, of Mel & Jay Management, which oversees about 200 units. And bedbugs have been a terrible problem here for the last two years, he said.

"Landlords can fix the problem if they get total cooperation from tenants, but without that, the problem can't be fixed. It won't go away until a number of steps are taken and sometimes it takes two or three months," Holman said.

Demetria Gunn, who rents a house on Wiman Avenue managed by Mel & Jay, said until she moved into house, she'd never had bedbugs. She said it took multiple trips to the doctor and treatments for allergies before she realized the itchy spots on her and her two children were bedbug bits.

But both sides say they are willing to do what it takes to get rid of the bugs. Gunn doesn't think she'll be able to move into a new place until that happens for fear she'll bring the bugs with her. Gunn said she isn't getting a lot of good sleep. She said she keeps getting up to check her kids, ages 7 and 15, for bug bites.

"I check them in the middle of the night and in the morning before they get up. I'm constantly looking at them," Gunn said.

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