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Why Bedbugs Will Cost You Millions (And How to Ensure They Don’t)

Industry Insights

Exterminate both pests and lawsuits with a mobile inspection platform, and rest easy knowing your apartment communities are living up to your quality standards

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Try your hand at this riddle: What has sucked the blood of more than 1 in 5 Americans, gets stronger when you try to kill it and costs you $800,000 in a negligence lawsuit payout?

The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is bedbugs.

The rapid rise of bedbugs infestations across apartment communities worldwide paired with the ensuing increase in expensive bedbug-related litigation is of special and immediate concern to the Multifamily industry. Bedbug infestations are more than just a nuisance. They’re a health and safety issue, and at the very least, bad news for your resident satisfaction and PR. From a financial standpoint, pest problems are expensive to treat, cause costly unit turns, and can require legal representation that can result in six or even seven-figure settlements if the infestation is judged as negligence on your part.

Gavel on pile of money

The aforementioned $800,000 settlement was brought by just a single renter, but a class action suit is guaranteed to come with an even higher price tag. A 2010 class-action lawsuit filed by 225 plaintiffs in Iowa cost the nonprofit property owners of the apartment buildings in question $2.45 million to settle, including $800,000 in attorney fees. And new laws across the country, like AB 551 in California that outlines clear landlord responsibilities, could drive up your risk of prosecution if you rely on traditional inspection systems like pen-and-paper. Victims of bedbug infestations have sued negligent property management companies and property owners for relocation expenses, remediation costs, mental duress, lost past and future income, bodily injuries like sores, damages and more.

Gavel on pile of money

The aforementioned $800,000 settlement was brought by just a single renter, but a class action suit is guaranteed to come with an even higher price tag. A 2010 class-action lawsuit filed by 225 plaintiffs in Iowa cost the nonprofit property owners of the apartment buildings in question $2.45 million to settle, including $800,000 in attorney fees. And new laws across the country, like AB 551 in California that outlines clear landlord responsibilities, could drive up your risk of prosecution if you rely on traditional inspection systems like pen-and-paper. Victims of bedbug infestations have sued negligent property management companies and property owners for relocation expenses, remediation costs, mental duress, lost past and future income, bodily injuries like sores, damages and more.

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"A 2010 class-action lawsuit filed by 225 plaintiffs in Iowa cost the nonprofit property owners of the apartment buildings in question $2.45 million to settle, including $800,000 in attorney fees."

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Your bottom-line suddenly looks a lot less certain. So how can you secure your assets, manage your properties, and keep residents free and clear of these loathsome little pests?

It’s said you’ve got to know your enemy to defeat them. For property managers and owners, there are two enemies here. The first are the bedbugs themselves. The second is a broken inspection system that too frequently is taken for granted by property managers comfortable with their current tools — this may be an even less obvious problem to asset owners, but your inspection process is the single most critical weapon in your arsenal in preventing and controlling pests.

Bedbug

Let’s lay out some facts about “enemy one” first. Although abhorrent, bedbugs aren’t known to spread disease, but their bites can result in a nasty rash and great distress. They feed mostly at night and like to make their homes in tight spaces near their favorite food source, us. They hitch rides on clothing, luggage and people, and reproduce quickly (females lay up to five eggs per day — you do the math). Bedbugs can live for 12 months without a human blood meal — their preferred dining choice. Their physiology makes handling an infestation complicated because most property management companies’ current inspection systems are woefully unequipped to effectively mitigate the risk of serious bedbug consequences.

Let’s lay out some facts about “enemy one” first. Although abhorrent, bedbugs aren’t known to spread disease, but their bites can result in a nasty rash and great distress. They feed mostly at night and like to make their homes in tight spaces near their favorite food source, us. They hitch rides on clothing, luggage and people, and reproduce quickly (females lay up to five eggs per day — you do the math). Bedbugs can live for 12 months without a human blood meal — their preferred dining choice. Their physiology makes handling an infestation complicated because most property management companies’ current inspection systems are woefully unequipped to effectively mitigate the risk of serious bedbug consequences.

Bedbug

Detection is key, and this is why your current inspection system is also your enemy. Conventional paper-and-pen and excel-based inspections don’t provide management with visibility into onsite operations, making it far more likely the inspection isn’t completed consistently by property staff; and paper inspections often return illegible handwriting and inconsistent information, making identifying issues almost impossible. This lack of consistency and visibility make infestations far more difficult to prevent and litigation far more likely and far more consequential. Negligence claims, the most expensive part of a lawsuit, can only be disproved with rock solid documentation, often missing from paper-based processes.

You can be held liable for negligence if you knew about a pest problem and did nothing, or should have known. And the statute of limitations for bedbugs claims ranges from two to three years, so there’s a sizable window of risk years after a pest incident. Accurate documentation is absolutely the most important precaution you can take to protect yourself from liability and billing disputes and hold pest management firms accountable. Relying on a paper system means you have to waste time trying to find lost reports and following up on illegible comments or that you end up ignoring important handwritten details altogether which is sure to lead to headaches down the road. And one lost report can mean paying hundreds of thousands in damages. What if property owners could inspect their holdings more efficiently and effectively? With a mobile inspection solution, your inspection photos are automatically time-stamped and included in reports; and your records are forever backed up to the cloud, searchable and immediately accessible so you have evidence right when you need it.
Because most inspection systems lack real-time property-level monitoring, there’s a greater likelihood your onsite teams will skip or fail to fill out data on the very inspections most imperative to your pest control efforts. Moving from a paper-based process to mobile has dramatically improved inspection compliance for our customers, like Yellowstone Club who saw a 46% increase in compliance and Equity Residential, who now achieves close to 100% compliance. Before they began employing a mobile inspection system, they weren’t able to see which of their properties hadn’t completed mandatory inspections. The visibility created by their new workflow has improved accountability organization-wide.

Bed inspection photo in Happy Inspector

A mobile inspection solution enables you to better monitor and thus prevent bedbug infestations. With a mobile inspection platform, your team collects standardized data which is a requirement for real-time analysis or any reliable analysis. Paired with a business intelligence (BI) platform, you will now have access to instant, actionable reporting. If you’re responsible for an entire region encompassing thousands of units, you can’t be on every property at once. BI functionality and an online management console give you the visibility and tools to intervene based on your set thresholds for nuisance level, health hazards or damage — impossible to replicate with a paper-based workflow.

Bed inspection photo in Happy Inspector


A mobile inspection solution enables you to better monitor and thus prevent bedbug infestations. With a mobile inspection platform, your team collects standardized data which is a requirement for real-time analysis or any reliable analysis. Paired with a business intelligence (BI) platform, you will now have access to instant, actionable reporting. If you’re responsible for an entire region encompassing thousands of units, you can’t be on every property at once. BI functionality and an online management console give you the visibility and tools to intervene based on your set thresholds for nuisance level, health hazards or damage — impossible to replicate with a paper-based workflow.

If you aren’t using a mobile system to administer a cadence of regularly documented inspections, your success in the courtroom is dubious. Courts demand that you can demonstrate you’ve done everything in your power to prevent infestations. The good news is that property managers and owners who’ve switched to a mobile inspection solution have seen their compliance rise dramatically across their portfolios and now have the means to detect pests early, keep residents happy, and act on their data before the problem ever reaches the courtroom — at a fraction of a cost of a trial or large settlement.

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"A mobile inspection solution enables you to better monitor and thus prevent bedbug infestations. With a mobile inspection platform, your team collects standardized data which is a requirement for real-time analysis or any reliable analysis."

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Exterminate both pests and lawsuits and rest easy knowing your communities are living up to your quality standards.

Download our Pest Prevention Checklist PDF to see how mobile inspections and BI help you evaluate the vulnerability of your properties to infestations, deter pests and decide when to contact a professional.

DOWNLOAD NOW

About the author

Avatar

Ben Chadwell
Marketing Manager

Ben hails from the gentle, rolling hills of Pennsylvania, where he achieved a BA in a degree program of his own design - a combo of Conservation Biology, Spanish and International Business - at West Chester University. He brings his background in nonprofit development and writing to the transformative work of HappyCo and especially enjoys crafting thought leadership pieces. When he isn't creating content and collateral, Ben delights in reading, doing improv theatre and blues dancing.

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