November 8, 2012

Good Night, Sleep Tight, And Don’t Let The Cimex Lectularius Bite!

Unless you’ve been living, well, under a mattress, you probably know that bed bugs have been making quite a comeback in the past few years.  They were nearly eradicated in the 1940’s, but they weren’t driven to extinction, and now they’ve returned with a vengeance.  Worse yet, bed bugs consider Chicago to be one of the country’s most desirable places to settle down and raise a family, which is why, as the 311 people can tell you, bed bug complaints have lately gone viral.

Bed bugs (known to entymologists as “cimex lectularius”) are flat, oval-shaped, wingless, reddish brown insects closely resembling an apple seed.  They reportedly smell like “rotting raspberries,” even when they’re freshly bathed.  Bedbugs feast on human blood and can live an entire year on a single feeding, although some develop hunger pangs and start feeling grouchy after only ten or eleven months.  They prefer dark environments, particularly warm mattresses, and often travel through clothing or second-hand furniture.  Because bed bugs detest contraception, the females often lay up to 20 eggs per week.

So the math speaks for itself.  Pick up a lone bed bug and three weeks later your apartment is awash in pests.  The wily creatures wait until you doze off, then burrow into your skin and drink your blood like a smoothie.  They eat without being noticed (and rarely tip), although their bites cause itchiness, swelling, redness, and welts.  Some people develop allergic reactions.  Others are barely affected.  Bed bugs don’t carry diseases, but they do cause sleeplessness, exasperation, fear, and diminished mental health. The critters are typically identified by fecal spots, blood spots, and molts.  Their eggs often nestle into the creases of bed sheets, and, once hatched, the critters often live in the seams of mattresses, where they can be downright impossible to detect. 

In June 2013, the City of Chicago finally declared war on bed bugs and snapped into action by enacting comprehensive bed bug legislation. Under the ordinance, Chicago tenants are required to notify their landlord within five days, in writing, of any known or suspected bed bug infestation within the dwelling unit (including infestations of clothing, furniture, or other personal property) or of any “recurring or unexplained bites, stings, irritation, or sores of the skin or body” suspected to have been caused by bed bugs. Once the landlord receives such notice, it is required to hire a certified pest control professional to exterminate the pesky villians, and to keep exterminating until all traces of their dastardly existence have vanished. (Landlords are also required to keep detailed records of all bed bug extermination work performed at the premises.) Tenants are required to cooperate in any such extermination work, which means providing access to the dwelling unit at reasonable times and upon reasonable notice, making all necessary preparations, and disposing of any infected personal property that cannot be treated or cleaned prior to the extermination. When disposing of personal property, tenants should be aware that the ordinance prohibits any person from removing any infected property from an apartment without safely enclosing it in a plastic bag and labeling it as infected with bed bugs.

Tenants concerned about angering the landlord by reporting a potential bed bug infestation will perhaps be relieved to know that the ordinance prohibits landlords from retaliating by not renewing leases, filing eviction actions, withholding services, or otherwise penalizing complaints.
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