Pest control — How to tell if my new, unfurnished apartment has bed bugs? Home Improvement Stack Exchange

How to tell if my new, unfurnished apartment has bed bugs?

I just signed the lease on a new apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I did so after looking up the address and seeing that it had been listed twice in the bed bug registry. In 2009, a tenant said a few units had been infested. In August 2010, a tenant said bed bugs had been seen in at least one of the top floor apartments (mine is on fl. 5 of 6). Nothing has been said about the building since.

I have not yet moved in, and I don’t have to move in for several weeks — maybe even a month. Currently, the apartment is empty of all furnishings except a refrigerator.

What can I do during the next few weeks to ensure the apartment is not infested?

3 Answers 3

Bed bugs are hard to see. They get in small cracks (e.g. between the flooring and wall) and can survive for months. Finding them by sight will be next to impossible. But you could have a service inspect the place before you move in. I think some use trained dogs that can smell them.

That said, no matter how careful you are, bedbugs can migrate through small cracks, vents, a shared laundry facility, etc. So even if you don’t have any before moving in, it’s possible they will migrate to your unit once there’s a food source (people).

They make kits that attract the bed bugs and trap them in a container so you can inspect it for their presence.

I have never used one of these so I cannot vouch for their accuary. However, I would not substitute this for a professional opinion in the event it is negative.

Finding an apartment without bed bugs

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[UPDATED 2/9/11] As of Aug. 30, NYC landlords and co-op owners must disclose bed bug problems to potential renters or buyers. Specifically, they must disclose whether bed bugs have been detected in the apartment or in the building within the past year, and if in the building, on what floor.

That’s all well and good, but there are a couple of unaddressed nuances besides what to do if you’re buying a condo. First, a landlord or co-op owner may be unaware of an as-yet untreated problem. Second, not every infestation history is grounds for disqualification: While a large bed bug problem in a small building is a deal breaker, the same is not necessarily true of the opposite.


A limited bed bug problem in a large building is not necessarily reason to avoid renting there, provided you’re comfortable that the landlord is responding correctly, and that the affected apartments are, at the very least, not horizontally or vertically connected to yours.

To find out, you’ll need to do some detective work.

  • Look up the building’s bed bug complaint and violation history on the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s website. All you need is the building’s address. Bed bug complaints represent formal complaints filed by residents; violations mean a city inspector has confirmed the presence of bed bugs. You can also see the specific unit numbers involved. If tenants filed a complaint, that probably indicates that the landlord is either not sophisticated or committed enough to adequately deal with a bed bug situation.
  • Look up the building’s address in the Bed Bug Registry, but keep in mind that these complaints have not been verified by an inspector. However, a lot of complaints in your building suggests both a heavy infestation and a poor response by the landlord.
  • Ask the neighbors. This sort of news travels quickly, and renters, unlike owners, are not very invested in keeping it quiet, particularly when they believe the landlord is not managing the situation well.
  • Ask the landlord/management company how they are dealing with the bed bug problem. They should sound knowledgeable, not defensive or dismissive. For instance, prior to signing a lease on what turned out to be a bed bug infested studio apartment last fall, one renter who contacted us recently said the management firm assured her that “only dirty people get bed bugs,” and as long as she kept her apartment clean, she would be fine. She wound up moving next door to the cluttered, infested, untreated apartment of a shut-in; she is not fine.


As stated above, co-op owners have the most disclosure responsibilities. They have to reveal whether there have been bed bugs in the apartment during the past year, or in the building, and on what floor.

Condo owners are legally required to disclose a bed bug problem only within their apartment, and only when asked. (Their brokers only have to tell you if they know—clearly, a don’t ask, don’t tell situation.)

Some suggestions for finding out more when you’re dealing with a condo:

  • Ask your attorney to put a seller’s representation in the contract (similar to those for leaks or mold) stating that to the seller’s knowledge, there has never been a bed bug problem in the building. You could also ask for an escrow fund to be set aside to deal with bed bugs should they surface within a specified period of time after you move in.
  • The board minutes probably won’t tell you much, as boards—concerned about property values—typically make deliberately vague references, if any. In a building with a bed bug problem, you might find multiple references to ‘extermination.’
  • Ask the property manager about any bed bug issues in the building and then carefully observe his or her response: Ignoring your question or passing the buck may indicate a problem.
  • If you can gain access to the apartment, consider hiring a professional inspector. (See tips below about bed bug sniffing dogs.) Understand that early infestations are extremely difficult for professionals or dogs to spot. And if the apartment is empty, the bugs are likely hibernating out of reach in the walls (and other hard to access spots) for up to a year awaiting the delivery of fresh meat (you).
  • If the apartment is empty, making visual and canine inspections even trickier, Gil Bloom of Standard Pest Management recommends putting down a variety of passive detectors (sticky traps) and active bed bug monitors (which emulate the presence of a human being) in the bedroom and where the couch used to be. The active monitors range from a fancy plug-in machine like the Nightwatch Bed Bug Monitor (around $400) to the lower-tech BB Active Alert Bed Bug Monitor ($25 + heating pads). Passive varieties include the CatchMaster Bedbug Detection System ($65/five dozen; more info here). In an empty apartment it can take two weeks to detect signs of bed bugs, and you will have best results if the apartment has been empty for less than a few weeks.
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A word about inspections

If you do inspect, you could ask for a visual inspection by a pest management professional who knows where to look and what to look for, or you could bring in a bed bug sniffing dog.

In the latter instance, be aware that there is a growing concern about false positives.

And to decrease the likelihood of a false positive, find a handler who also seeks out visual confirmation of a bed bug “finding” by the dog. Alternatively, hire two independent canine testers, and be suspicious of any conflicting results.

Don’t bring a bed bug problem with you

If you are moving from a bed-bugged apartment or building, you may want to take the extra precaution of stopping at a fumigation facility along the way to have your moving van and everything inside it fumigated. This will also eliminate the possibility of picking up bed bugs from the moving truck itself.

Related posts on BrickUnderground:

Bed Bug Detectors: A Comparison Review. How to the Find Insects Before They Find You

As you know, it’s better to prevent a serious problem rather than to rack your brains over solving it. This is especially true for the issue of bed bugs. Unfortunately, most of us are familiar with these pests. Perhaps you have already had to throw out your favorite and comfy mattress infested by the bed bugs… They can reappear though in any house, apartment or office, so that’s why you’d better find and neutralize them than let them spoil your life and sound sleep. You can hire the exterminators who would bring a bed bug sniffing dog, but this is an expensive procedure. Or you can try and solve the problem by yourself. But what is the right bed bug detector? How do they work? Here you’ll find a comparison review of four detectors that you can buy online.

Table of Contents:

How Do You Get Bed Bugs

It may seem that they come out of nowhere, but it’s not true. They can get to your house via different paths.

You attract them just like you attract any other blood-sucking insects. Bed bugs feed on warm blood and they specifically prefer human blood as it is the warmest of all and is abundant. In order to get to the source of blood, they settle in furniture and other objects, and crawl out of them at night to have a feast.

Potential places of bed bugs provenance include such public places as city transit or even cinemas where the chairs’ upholstery is soft, i.e. anywhere where there is furniture. This applies to places inhabited by people: hospitals, shelters and hostels. Don’t forget that they also can inhabit laundries or even schools. They are small and flat, and can crawl into any crack in the furniture and get into your clothes or bag when you visit one of the above mentioned places, that is why they are often called hitchhikers. Once you bring them home, you’ll set off a time bomb and they will fill your entire house. They are so dangerous, that some schools cancelled classes because of a single bed bug case.

Here is an important fact: bed bugs were a big problem in the USA until 1940-50s, but the issue cased to be crucial in the last couple of decades with the life quality and hygiene habits improvement. Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist of University of Kentucky College of Agriculture expresses his opinion on why the bed bug threat has re-occurred in the USA: “Immigration and international travel have contributed to the resurgence of bed bugs in the U.S”.

The likelihood of bed bug infestation at home increases indeed if you just got back from a trip or if you’ve been hitchhiking (in this case you can easily get infested by fleas as well). In such a situation it is your suitcase that acts as a carrier of the pests into your house. As they love heat, you’re most likely to bring them from tropic countries especially from those where cleaning of the territories and accommodation leaves much to be desired.

Now, let’s get back to furniture, which is a favorite place to crawl in of these little crawling creatures. Statistics of the Department of Entomology of University of Kentucky’s experts show that: “the most common areas for finding bed bugs were beds (mentioned by 85% of respondents), bedding (mentioned by 52%), furniture such as nightstands and dressers (26%), couches and chairs (25%)”. Over 37% of respondents have encountered these pests in baseboards and under the carpet sides, few of them have come across bed bugs in the walls, on the ceiling and in the clothes.

As you can see, the bed bugs are more attracted by a sofa or a bed with a mattress and especially the kind of furniture that is often neglected when cleaning: the mattress cases are barely washed, the upholstery isn’t cleaned properly either. However, the problem is not always in the brand-new furniture which you have once bought at IKEA or straight from the manufacturing works. Sometimes it is the vintage furniture bought from someone or rented that becomes a source of bed bugs. The risk is especially high if you don’t know how and by whom it was previously used. The same goes for secondary housing which may already be infested.

In addition, bed bugs can crawl to you from your neighbors’ place, should their apartment be infested. Although these insects can neither fly nor jump, they can go without food for quite some time and they crawl rather fast. That is why they can easily over overcome the distance between your neighbors’ front door and yours one, as a hungry bed bug can crawl up to 20 (!) meters in search of the food.

As you can see, there are many places of bed bug provenance. That’s why you can’t be idle and wait to be bitten. You should have a clear understanding of bed bug signs so that you don’t miss the beginning of their hostile attack on your place.

Bed Bug Detection: the Clearest Bed Bug Signs

It’s time to talk about signs of life bed bugs show. Most of them, of course, are connected with bites:

  • Bed bugs’ bites are red spots on any part of human body.
  • There are always trails of 2-3 bites in a row, a bed bug doesn’t suck all of the blood at once, it feeds on it gradually and bites several times.
  • Itching and redness almost always accompany these insects’ bites.

What is interesting is that almost every third person bitten doesn’t feel any uncomfortable sensations! We have also encountered an opinion that it is the newborns who attract the bed bugs most as their blood tastes specifically well for them. We don’t know whether the newborns are really bitten more often, but the bites can be the actual cause of their constant crying because their skin is really sensitive.

If you are not sure, whether you or your child were bitten by a bed bug, a mosquito or someone else, we have drawn up a chart for you listing different insects’ bite signs so that you could identify the pest bothering you.

See also:  5 Home Remedies for Itching, HowStuffWorks

Symptom /Insect

Bed Bug



The bite spot

Medium-sized stiff red swollen spots

Small red swollen spots

Small deep bites with a hole in its center, and a red areola around it. Some blisters are also found.

Where do they bite ?

3-5 bites form a trail on any body part.

The bites are separate, spots can be found all over the body.

As a rule, 2-3 bites form a trail. Most often fleas bite feet and shins, less often they attack the upper body.


Bed bugs are night insects so you’ll find the bites the morning after once you wake up.

Bites can appear at any time

Bites can appear at any time


Does not necessarily happen, but in any case doesn’t last long.

Intense, goes away relatively quickly.

Intense, goes away relatively quickly.

Other typical symptoms

Brownish stains on the bed sheets and under the mattresses which are the remains of the bed bugs you’ve accidentally crushed.

Mosquitoes squeak, bites are visible when skin starts to itch

Strong pain at the moment of the bite, the insect is not observed though.

Insect activity peak

The insects are active all year around

Activity peaks at the end of spring and during summer

Activity peaks at the end of summer

Apart from the bed bug bites, other signs of infestation include blood spots on the bed sheets and mattress as well as some black dots which are these insects’ feces.

Mind that these pests prefer wood and paper to metal and plastic, which is proven by the New York State IPM Program of Cornell University (Michael F. Potter, whom we have already quoted, adds fabric to this list as well). That is why you have to meticulously go through the wooden furniture frames, check the cracks, seams and hidden spots. But how do you find bed bugs in the mattress or soft upholstery?

Bed Bugs Detectors

Most often people understand that their house has been infected once they have already noticed the bites. So how do you find the bed bugs in this case? You can hire the exterminators who would bring a bed bug sniffing dog, but this is an expensive procedure. So you can try and solve the problem by yourself. We have tried our utmost to find the best bed bug detectors for you, but unfortunately there are few decent items out there.


Climbup stands for Check current price are one of today’s best selling bed bug traps and detectors with the 4 stars out of 5 rating. These are plastic round stands for your bed’s legs which contain two circles: an internal and an external one. Some talc powder can be found inside so that the pests cannot migrate between the circles or get outside.

With these things you’ll be able to understand the direction of pests’ moving, whether they come from the floor and furniture or vice versa, from your bed. If the infestation is external (mind that the bed bugs inhabit both the closets and floor cracks), they will get trapped in the external circle. In case they inhabit the bed and try to move along the bed legs, they will be trapped in the internal circle. This is why this product is not a mere detector, but also a full-scale trap.

Over 67% of customers are satisfied with Climbup Insect Interceptor and combine it with continuous bed bug elimination. They are also popular as a preventive measure used alongside with the special mattress encasement (by the way, we have covered the best ones in our 5 Best Bed Bug Mattress Protectors review ). There are still some drawbacks as some say that the plastic stands can crack, so you should take care of them. Else, using these detectors will be pointless and the insects will crawl away even if the cracks are tiny. The stands are supposed to stand steadily and it is preferable to locate them right on the floor. People share from their experience that they rip when on the carpet.

By the way, some experienced users recommend you not to be in despair if you catch none of the bugs and to use the stands for at least a month. They also recommend others to “Purchase some diatomaceous earth to put in the spaces meant to trap the bugs rather than talc powder. This will ensure they not only are trapped, but die quickly (hopefully painfully)”. Read other helpful customers’ tips.

Inspecting Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs

When staying in a hotel it is a good idea to inspect your room for bed bugs as soon as you arrive. You do not want to unpack or settle in until you have checked to see if there are bed bugs in your room.

Bring a small flashlight with you when going to stay at a hotel; this will make it easier to inspect your room. As soon as you arrive, keep your suitcase on the floor away from the bed or place it in the bathroom. These areas are less likely to have bed bugs. Never put your suitcase, clothes or personal items on the bed as this is the most common way to get bed bugs in your possessions and transfer them to your home.

A Basic Inspection

Start your inspection with the mattress, as this is the most common area for bed bugs. Gently remove the sheet and mattress pad inspecting the four corners of the mattress and box spring.

Another important place to inspect for bed bugs that is often overlooked is the luggage rack or valet. Inspect carefully, concentrating on cracks and crevices. Bed bugs maybe found on the luggage rack if they have come in on other travelers’ luggage.

An In-Depth Inspection

If you want to do a more in-depth inspection of your room we recommend the following.

Inspect along the edging, seams and other small areas of the mattress and box spring. Continue your inspection with the headboard. In most hotels the headboard is attached to the wall. Use your flashlight to look in the crack between the wall and the headboard.

Next inspect the furniture around the bed, and any pictures hanging on the wall. Bed bugs are known to hide behind framed pictures and around or on furniture. Make sure you inspect all the cracks and crevices of the night stand, including screw holes, joints and in the drawers. Once you have insured that these areas do not have bed bugs move on to other furniture in the room, especially upholstered chairs. As you are inspecting pay special attention to the seams.

If you find bed bugs in your hotel room notify the front desk immediately and ask to be moved to a new room, which is not next door to the room where you found bed bugs.


When staying in a hotel it is a good idea to bring along a large plastic bag to put your dirty clothes into. Bed bugs can smell the chemical that we leave behind on our clothing and are attracted to this smell. Putting dirty clothing into a plastic bag will reduce the chance that you will get bed bugs on these items, and then bring them home with you.

See also:  10 Fascinating Facts About Scorpions

If you stay in a hotel room and are worried about bed bugs take these precautions when you return home to reduce the risk of bringing bed bugs into your home.

  • Immediately launder all the clothing you brought with you, or seal inside a plastic bag until it can be laundered. See the factsheet “Laundering Items to Kill Bed Bugs” for more information.
  • Vacuum your suitcase, inside and out. Once you have finished vacuuming your suitcase immediately discard the contents of the vacuum in a plastic bag which can be sealed tightly shut and then put in the trash. The suitcase can then be stored inside a large plastic bag or box to insure, in the unlikely event that bed bugs did hitchhike, they cannot move from your suitcase into your home.
  • Shoes can be wiped down with a damp cloth and hot water to reduce the risk of them being infested with bed bugs.

Bed Bugs in Walls

It is a common misconception that bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, are only found in beds. The reality is that you can find bed bugs in walls, furniture, carpeting and other locations in your home. If you are wondering, «Where do bed bugs hide,» keep reading to find some of the most common sites for an infestation.

Hiding in plain sight

Adult bed bugs are visible to the naked eye, but have the ability to wedge their flattened, oval-shaped bodies into the smallest of spaces. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s factsheet on bed bugs, a good rule of thumb is to check cracks and spaces with a credit card. Bed bugs are about the same width as most credit cards, so if the card fits into a space, a bed bug could too.

In addition to looking in bedding, you should also look for bed bugs on the wall behind the bed, along the edges of drawers, down baseboards, in the corners of rooms (including where the ceiling and wall meet), inside electrical outlets and in wall switches. In cases where an infestation is more severe, bed bugs may also be found behind wall hangings or under loose wallpaper, in or around electrical appliances, on curtains, between cushions or in the seams of couches or upholstered chairs.

If your household has pets, you should check their bedding, and the animals themselves for signs of bed bugs.

Bed bugs in walls

These pests can travel through walls if an infestation gets bad enough. Bed bugs have been known to use pipes and electrical wires as highways into homes. Though this is more common in hotels, apartment complexes and dormitories, it can also be how an infestation spreads from room to room in a single-family home.

They may also take refuge inside clothing or luggage, both of which should be inspected and cleaned thoroughly after any travel.

If you are seeing bed bugs – on the walls, bedding or anywhere else in your home – don’t panic, there is a solution. Where do bed bugs hide when Terminix® is on the scene? They don’t. Call Terminix today to schedule your free bed bug inspection.

How Homeowners and Renters Can Detect Bedbugs Before Moving In

There is nothing like your first night in a new house or apartment. That is, of course, after you have unpacked and organized all of your belongings. The question remains though: Have you checked for those creepy critters called bedbugs?

Now more than ever, new renters and homeowners are becoming more and more concerned with the history of bedbug infestations within their new home. Not all landlords and homeowners share if they have or had a bedbug infestation in the past with prospective buyers or renters. Additionally, the current owner or landlord might not be aware that they currently have a bedbug infestation.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure you are not moving into an infested apartment or home:

1. Call your local, non-emergency information hotline to find out what the laws in your state are regarding tenant notification of current and previous bedbug infestations within your building and apartment.

2. Conduct a pre-purchase or rental bedbug canine inspection. For decades we have worried about termites in our homes. Now you can get the same reassurance by eradicating your house or apartment of bedbugs prior to moving in. Be sure this inspection is conducted before you move to save you time, money, and a huge hassle.

3. Before moving into your new apartment, speak with management and ask how they handle infestations within the building. Do your research online to find out if the building has been previously infested by reading tenant reviews.

4. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself to your neighbors and get the inside scoop on the building.

5. Create a bedbug barrier within your apartment by using an over-the-counter bedbug spray like Pronto Plus. Pronto Plus kills bedbugs and their eggs on contact and helps you stay bedbug free.

6. Don’t be fooled — Freshly-painted walls and refinished floors will not rid your apartment or home of bedbugs if they are currently living there.

7. Purchase mattress and box-spring encasements, as well as cut down on clutter within your apartment or home. It’s best to keep items out from under your bed, where bedbugs can easily hide.

8. If you are using a moving company, ask it what steps it takes to ensure the truck is bedbug free before loading your belongings. You can even have the truck inspected by a bedbugs-sniffing canine prior to the moving company visiting your home or apartment.

9. Try your best to not bring secondhand or used items into your home. If you must have that item, utilize a bedbug barrier spray on the item prior to bringing it inside.

10. Keep your eyes out while touring a new home or apartment for any telltale signs of having bedbugs. To learn more about obvious signs, check out this article about identifying bedbugs.

Lastly, take a deep breath. Moving can be stressful, but if you keep this list in mind, you’ll be ahead of the game. Remember that while this might seem like another task to add to your moving checklist, doing your due diligence will allow you to sleep tight. And of course, don’t let the bedbugs bite.

Michael Colongione is a spokesman for Pronto Plus®, distributed by Insight Pharmaceuticals. The advice and opinions he expresses in this article are his own.

For more by Michael Colongione, click here.

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