Pretty much anybody who’s been apartment hunting knows what they’re looking for in a place to live, and bedbugs usually aren’t on that list.
So it might seem like a crazy idea for landlords to tell potential tenants about past bedbug infestations, but Alison Hill believes it will pay off in the long run.
A John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellow, Hill is the co-author of a study that examines a requirement — proposed in a number of cities across the country — that would mandate such notifications. The results show that while landlords would experience a modest drop in rental income in the short term, they would make that money back in just a handful of years, and that the policy could dramatically slow the spread of the insects. The study is described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We find that in most cases, these policies are expected to have some costs to landlords in the first few years after they are enacted,” Hill said. “There will be some lost rent and higher vacancies rates in apartments that have a history of infestation. But those costs all come back as gains later, because we find that these policies are effective at reducing the spread of infestations.”
One way the bugs can spread, Hill said, is during moves. Tenants relocating from infested apartments may inadvertently bring bedbugs to their new place as well as leave them behind at their old one, since the bugs can live in walls and floors as well as in furniture.
The proposed disclosure policy creates an unofficial quarantine period, Hill said, by reducing the chances that an infested unit is rented, allowing landlords time to thoroughly treat the space for bedbugs and decreasing the chances they’ll continue spreading.
“When the overall level of bedbugs decreases,” Hill said, “landlords will spend less on costly pest-control efforts. There is less chance their apartments will be infested, and vacancy rates go back to normal. While for the first few years we predict there is a little extra cost to them — it depends on the rental market, but it’s on the order of 0.2 percent to 2 percent per unit per year — after the five-year mark they’re expected to see gains that are even higher than that.”
The study’s first author, Sherrie Xie, a Ph.D. candidate and veterinary medicine student at the University of Pennsylvania, also developed an online tool to demonstrate how the policy can lead to savings for landlords over time.