Rest unassured: In the city that never sleeps, bedbugs are still a major cause of insomnia for thousands of New Yorkers trapped in infested apartments and buildings. Whether you're renting or buying, here's how to minimize the chance that they will be waiting behind your next front door.
• Plug the building's address into the BedBugRegistry.com and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Look for complaints of multiple apartment infestations within the past year and signs that the landlord is unresponsive.
• NYC landlords must give you a bedbug disclosure form stating whether the bloodsuckers have been detected in the apartment or in the building in the past year, and on what floor. Be extra concerned about infestations on your floor or adjacent floors. You should also ask how the landlord or management company is dealing with the problem. They should sound knowledgeable -- not defensive or dismissive.
• Ask the neighbors: Unlike co-op and condo owners, they have nothing to lose by telling you if there's a problem in the building.
• Co-op and condo owners tend to keep bed bug problems quiet for fear of hurting resale values, so you won't learn much by asking the neighbors or poking around online. However, like landlords, co-op owners are required by law to tell buyers about a bed bug problem in the apartment in the past year, and in the building if they know about it (though this is far from guaranteed). Condo owners only have to disclose problems in their apartment, and only when asked.
• Either way, ask your attorney to put a seller's representation in the contract stating that to the seller's knowledge there has never been a bed bug problem in the building.
• Your attorney should also ask the property manager about the building's bed bug history and pay close attention to the response: Ignoring the question or passing the buck may indicate a problem.
A word about inspections...
Before you spend a few hundred dollars on a bedbug-sniffing dog (assuming you can get access to your prospective digs), understand that it will be challenging for a dog to find evidence if the apartment is empty as the bugs typically hibernate in the walls out of reach.
If the apartment is empty, consider scattering a variety of "passive" detectors (sticky traps) and "active" detectors (which emulate the presence of a human being) where the couch and bed 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).
It can take around two weeks to detect signs of bedbugs in a vacant apartment (for best results, the apartment should be empty for less than a few weeks), so this is not a practical option for renter, nor for many buyers.
If you do go the dog route, bear in mind that false positives are a particular problem with untrained and/or scam-minded handlers. Make sure the company you hire is recommended by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association.
If you're moving from a bedbug problem, consider taking extra precautions against bringing hitchhikers with you: Add an extra night to your move to have your moving truck fumigated. This also eliminates the possibility of picking bedbugs up in transit.
Finally, just because you move into an apartment (or building) without bedbugs does not, of course, guarantee it will always be without bedbugs. Early detection -- achieved by bedbug "proofing" your apartment -- is the best way to minimize the expense and psychological trauma of a bedbug infestation.