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Student Housing Horror Stories: The Silent KillerMorgan Keegan
It was a beautiful midsummer morning when the exchange took place. One tenant moved out, as the other moved in. Unbeknownst to all, somebody had introduced additional visitors into the household during this exchange. The uninvited visitors happily lurked in the shadows for a week, before someone started asking questions.
Suspicious bug bite patterns had started to appear scattered across the new roommate’s skin, and inevitably somebody had to ask, “What happened to your skin?”
Several Google searches later, we were still hesitant to issue a ruling on the bug bites. Nobody wanted to say it out loud. But there were no other feasible answers. It was bed bugs.
I was also a regular visitor to the household that summer, though of course I was invited by my friends rather than unknowingly brought in. That being said, I have a severe aversion to bugs of any kind, most especially to the kind that live in your bed and feed off your body when you’re sleeping (as I imagine most people would as well). When I started to realize exactly what was happening, my skin began to crawl.
We all took turns inspecting the bedroom while Tom, the newest addition to the household, stood at the doorway nervously inspecting the bug bites on his arms.
We all noticed some strange markings on the bed frame, but none of us really understood exactly what we were looking for in the first place and the bed frame was rather old, bolted firmly into the wall and leftover from some previous tenant years ago. No one dared make a ruling on the markings and no one knew what to do.
We did, of course, want to make sure Tom was okay so we encouraged him to call his mom for advice on what we should do. She advised Tom to talk to the landlord and have someone do an inspection of the house.
The inspector came a few hours later, walking throughout the house and studying the sides of every bed and mattress in the house carefully. He checked the closets, underneath bedsheets and pillows, and behind the couches and cushions. I chose to wait outside, as the house had started to feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
When he finished, he turned to face everyone and announced that it was most definitely bed bugs and that everyone would have to follow his instructions very carefully. It seemed to have mostly been contained to Tom’s bedroom, but it was impossible to say for sure as their couches were all too dark to properly identify those tell-tale markings.
As a household, they had two options. They could pay a premium of $1400 (which, let’s be honest, is a pretty terrifying number all on it’s own especially to a college student) to have the house superheated to 130°F which would effectively kill every bed bug and their eggs. Or they could live out of trash bags for a couple of weeks while the exterminators sprayed down each part of the house.
They agreed as a household to pay the premium in order to have the problem solved as quickly as possible and spent a few days talking things over with their private landlord, trying to convince her to foot the bill as they had no idea how this had happened.
Tom ended up splitting the bill with the landlord, despite the fact that he was still unconvinced that he had caused the problem, and everyone set to work. The boys had to run every single piece of fabric in the house through the dryer to kill the bed bugs before stuffing everything into tightly sealed trash bags. They removed everything that could potentially melt in the sweltering heat and vacated the house for a day while the house was superheated.
I went home, completely paranoid, and spent the rest of the day checking and rechecking the mattresses and couches to see if I could find any of those terrifying markings. For good measure, I threw all the clothes I wore at their house into the dryer and ran it twice.
I texted my roommate, who had been visiting her family in Arizona for the summer, to let her know what was happening. I asked her if she wanted me to have our apartment inspected as well since I had been spending a decent amount of time at their house. Shay, the wonderful roommate that she is, reassured me that it seemed highly unlikely that our apartment was infected too, though she completely understood my paranoia.
The boys returned to their house a few hours after the house had been treated to find the entire place was still at least 120°F. It was impossible to stand inside for more than a few minutes without feeling as if they were suffocating from the heat. They spent the next two nights camping out in their backyard, going as far as to move a couch and a TV outside to watch movies while the house cooled down.
Their landlord came a few days later to have the old bed frame removed from the wall and destroyed. She wasn’t interested in who caused the problem, whether it was Tom or the tenant before him, and she was displeased that she had had to pay even half of the costs for the bed bugs at all.
We will never know who caused the infestation. Tom’s mother had insisted that the mattress Tom moved into the house that day couldn’t have been the problem because it had been tightly wrapped in plastic the entire time it was in storage. The previous tenant had lived there for six months prior and hadn’t communicated with the roommates before moving out so that also resulted in a dead end.
I am still terrified by the possibility of bed bugs and made a conscious effort to educate myself on those tell-tale signs, which I will continue to look out for in homes, hotels, and really anywhere else that I choose to sleep.
I pay special attention to pest control details when signing leasing agreements now, to make sure that I won’t be the one to foot the bills in case I do ever find myself in a similar situation.
I also learned a lot from watching the boys handle the disagreements with their landlords, pressuring her to foot the bill at least partially due to the inconsistencies with the changing tenants.
As they were renting from a private landlord, their lease agreement was literally on a signed piece of notebook paper that they kept stuck to their fridge, outlining no more than the duration of the lease and the tenants. They had chosen to rent with a private landlord because they tended to offer cheaper rent rates, but after struggling to deal with maintenance issues for the two years they lived there, they realized there are quite a few downsides to a private landlord.
Help your student make an educated decision and balance the pros and cons of their housing choices to make sure they find something that suits them best. The boys had been able to deal with quite a few of the smaller maintenance issues themselves, but everything from getting their backyard mowed to fixing their broken dryer was an ordeal to communicate with their landlord. Make sure to double check with your student about how much they'll be able to handle in their rental property, and whether or not they would benefit from a corporate maintenance team to help them handle issues big or small.
Make sure to check out the other installments of Student Housing Horror Stories!