One Stuy Town couple’s nightmare
By Sabina Mollot
For the past two months, a Stuyvesant Town building, 8 Stuyvesant Oval, has been battling a bedbug infestation.
While the sighting of bed bugs is hardly a New York novelty, one of the residents in the buildings whose apartment is affected agreed to be interviewed by Town & Village in the hope that it would help prepare neighbors if they ever find themselves in the same situation.
For the resident, Don Reynolds, and his wife Nancy, the ordeal has had a price tag of over $9,000 in apartment treatment prep fees and other costs relating to the couple’s so far losing war on the blood-sucking invaders.
A spokesperson for CWCapital, when asked for comment on the situation, told T&V that bed bugs have actually been on the decline in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village as a result of “aggressive” methods aimed at staying one step ahead of the problem.
“Any resident who is concerned about bedbugs should contact management immediately to arrange for an inspection,” the rep, Brian Moriarty, said. “Management follows citywide best practices and treats bedbugs aggressively. As a result, new bedbug cases at PCVST have decreased 11 percent compared to last year and 20 percent compared to 2013. If a resident does have bed bugs, we provide information on how to prepare the apartment for treatment, which in most cases can be done by residents themselves at a nominal expense. Some residents, however, choose to hire third-party vendors for this work.”
In the case of the Reynoldses, they opted to pay to have a company prep the apartment, since they’re both in their mid-80s, and doing some of the lifting of their belongings wound up being more difficult than they expected. The actual bed bug remedial treatment is paid for by the landlord.
According to Reynolds, the bedbugs were first discovered on June 25, which was a day after the apartment was painted.
“The next day I got these bites as did Nancy,” he said, during an interview over the phone. “We didn’t know what it was — we thought it was mosquitos. But then we started seeing a lot of them, so we went to the emergency room.”
It was at Mount Sinai Beth Israel that a nurse identified them as bed bug bites. A dermatologist later confirmed this. Reynolds said his and Nancy’s apartment is free of clutter, which can attract bed bugs, and they don’t travel or even entertain much at home. They’re retired, Don from a career in broadcast advertising and marketing and later teaching art history at Columbia, and Nancy is a former financial editor.
“Rarely do we ever have anyone over, we don’t go to the theater. We have our own lifestyle which is very quiet,” said Reynolds.
He’d brought up that the apartment had just been painted to management, but a rep didn’t believe this was related. Reynolds also wondered if the more transient nature of the community in recent years could be to blame.
“We see new faces on our floor every week,” he said. “We see people coming and going who we don’t know, but we’re not going to say, ‘Where are you going?’”
While there’s no way to know for sure what brought the bugs to his unit, Reynolds quickly learned that it would be up to him and Nancy to get the apartment ready for a round of treatment. Prep would consist of steps like moving furniture, getting clothing out of dresser drawers, emptying closets and pulling all pictures and mirrors off the wall and then putting everything into sturdy plastic bags. Then there was the matter of temporarily stashing everything.
“You could stuff things in the kitchen and bathroom, but that’s absurd since we’re in a one-bedroom,” said Reynolds. Having moved to Stuyvesant Town in 1987, he soon realized, “We have a lot of stuff.” So after three days of prep, the couple gave up.
Reynolds then spoke with a Stuy Town property manager who mentioned the names of two firms who offer bed bug treatment prep. After speaking with representatives from both companies, Reynolds ended up picking the one who was able to give him a direct quote on what the service would cost rather than a range of possible costs. That cost wound up being $8,300, which included a $300 fee for the company, Assured Environments, to put everything away later, and a month’s storage for some of his belongings. With tax, this ended up being a little over $9,000.
He ended up not being that satisfied with the service though, noting that some things had been neglected like a drawer that was still full of clothes, some drawers left open and a large oil painting left on the wall, until he called the company to mention it.
Prep also included what appeared to be black coasters called “blackouts” being placed underneath the legs of the bed to trap the bugs. Later, there were two chemical treatments, also done by Assured Environments, each of which took several hours, and then a visual inspection earlier this month. During the inspection, a live bed bug was found.
“It was on a cushion on the couch, which I’d been using as my bed,” said Reynolds. It was at this point that the infestation began taking an emotional toll on the couple, in particular Nancy, who had to get prescription medication after developing an allergic reaction to the bugs’ bites.
Bed bugs also turned up in a couple of other apartments, including the one above Reynolds’. He alerted some neighbors, who spread the word via email and even organized a meeting.
Considering how long the process has been taking to alleviate, Reynolds said he would like to see the laws changed so that owners are responsible for paying for the apartment preparation as well as the remediation. Having an owner as opposed to a tenant as a client, he explained, might help the process move along more quickly.
“I know very well Stuyvesant Town could be tremendously successful if it was required to pay for all this,” Reynolds said. “It would be first rate and they wouldn’t be making mistakes. Otherwise, heads would roll.”
Reynolds said he isn’t sure how much he’s spent on additional bug-related costs like having to buy new furniture and having to eat out for every meal except breakfast. “The apartment is untenable,” he explained. And there’s also laundry. He’d been doing two washes a day at a local laundromat but this week got down to one most of the time.
He added that whenever he leaves the house he puts on a fresh outfit, to make sure he avoids carrying any bed bugs with him. He and Nancy have been sleeping on chairs since the bed bug was found on the couch. They’ve since thrown out the couch, and the bed has had its headboard removed. Reynolds added that Nancy is afraid to sleep on it.
At this time, following the positive visual inspection, Reynolds said he understands this means having to continue the remedial treatment and another visual inspection has been scheduled for this week. He wasn’t happy about this, though, noting that if the treatment goes on much longer, he’ll have to pay another $350 in rent for his belongings. He’s mulling getting a second opinion from another firm.
This was after thinking the bugs were on the decline, but then getting bitten again the night before. “It’s hard to say (if it’s improving),” said Reynolds.
On his current situation, while he’s noticed some neighbors giving him the silent treatment, others have been supportive, in particular those who came to the recent building meeting.
“It’s a strange atmosphere; it’s not the same as it was,” said Reynolds, who did not want to be photographed for this story. But, he said, when he asked his wife if she was sorry they told others about the infestation, “She said, ‘Not at all.’”
Initially, though, he had been afraid to tell neighbors. “It is embarrassing,” he said, but added that he and Nancy ultimately decided to go for it. “At our age we don’t care whether we’re popular or not.”
In response to some of Reynolds’ concerns, we reached out to Assured Environments, where a representative said $9,000 for apartment prep was on the “upper level.” The rep, who asked not to be named, said without having seen the apartment, he could only guess that means the tenant has a lot of belongings. He’s seen apartments that cost $14,000. And if someone hoards, they’re probably looking at a bill of $20,000. He also said two months was on the longer side for the problem to be eliminated. If an infestation isn’t too insidious, it could be handled in three to four weeks, with the first week consisting of prep, followed by a treatment, followed by a second treatment after 14 days. He said the company would be following up with the Reynoldses. In the meantime, he recommended that they sleep on the treated bed, rather than a chair.
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” he said. “They’re climbing up the chair and feeding on him. Bed bugs will find you. The bed is the oasis.”
In Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the Tenants Association recommends that any resident who suspects they have bed bugs visit its online bed bug registry (www.stpcvta.org) for a list of buildings with confirmed infestations as well as sites of cloverleaf inspections. Susan Steinberg, president of the Tenants Association, said she’s heard of apartment prep fees ranging in price from $6,000 to $10,000 and occasionally more. However, she said it can’t hurt to ask for an estimate from a second company.
The New York City Department of Health website has a bed bug section (www.nyc.gov/html/doh/bedbugs), which mentions that control of an infestation warrants two or more treatment visits and a followup inspection to confirm that the problem has been eliminated. The data also mentions that bed bugs can invade the cleanest, healthiest homes.