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They are the easiest pests to bring home and one of the toughest to eliminate: bed bugs. And they’ve catapulted Los Angeles to the top of an unsavory list.
In 2011, LA was one of the five most infested cities in the country and for the throngs of Angelenos who rent their homes, getting rid of the tiny bugs can be even tougher.
Still, renters have rights. Tormented by bed bugs, Claudine Penedo and Georgia Shiner called on the NBC4 Get Garcia Team to investigate the infestation.
“I flip my cases over, I flip my bed over, every day, every night and I still get bit,” Penedo said.
“It’s so frustrating and stressful, I can’t even have people in my home,” she said. “I feel like a leper.”
When the single mother moved into her Valley Village apartment in January she had no idea that the woman living below her had been battling bed bugs for nearly three years.
“She thought she got rid of them,” Penedo said.
Georgia Shiner, 74, thinks she might have sent the bugs upstairs.
“I thought I really had them under control until she told me,” Shiner said.
The two women say their landlord told them the bed bugs were their problem. Shiner says the landlord, Larry Gleason, advised her to throw away her bed, couch and carpet. Nothing helped.
So, they fogged and cleaned and fogged and clean. And still, Georgia said, she had to take extreme measures to sleep every night.
They called pest control companies and realized they couldn’t afford an exterminator. When they called the health department, they were told they are in fact protected by the law.
"It's pretty straight forward," said Angeleo Bellomo the director of environmental health for the LA County Health Department. "The landlord has the obligation to maintain premises that are vermin free."
The health department, Bellomo said, takes bed bug complaints seriously and will send out an inspector within three days of a complaint. But when an environmental health inspector from the LA County Health Department first inspected the women’s four-plex, he could not find any bed bugs.
During a second visit, the health department inspector found a “live bed bug in the bedroom,” records show, and the landlord was cited.
A check of property records show that wasn’t the first time Gleason had been cited. In 2009, his apartment building in North Hollywood was cited for roach infestation. In that case, four months after the citation and after two more inspections later, it was determined the roach problem was fixed.
After sustaining a citation for the Valley Village property’s bed bugs, Gleason – who declined to speak with NBC4 for this report – hired an exterminator and the apartments have now been sprayed three times because the bugs kept returning.
The renters were also given a checklist outlining what they had to do to prepare, including: removing all linens and clothing from the apartment and taking off all the electrical and light socket covers because bed bugs travel from apartment to apartment through the walls and can hide out for months until insecticides and treatments wear off.
It’s been over a month since the third treatment and the women are hopeful, but wary, that their nightmare is over.
During the process, the women called NBC4’s Get Garcia Team, which enlisted the help of a bed bug expert, entomologist Gail Getty. She quickly found evidence of bed bugs during her inspection of Shiner’s apartment.
“These are typical little bed bug fecal stains right here,” Getty said, pointing to brown stains on Shiner’s bed sheets.
Moments later she found a dead bug at the foot post of the bed.
Getting rid of bed bugs in an apartment complex takes a three-pronged effort, according to Getty. The renters, the landlord and the exterminator all have to do their part.
“You alert your manager immediately and you get a pest control company to do an inspection. And that inspection will always include all the surrounding units,” said Getty
Usually there is no one to blame for bringing the pests into a home.
“It’s a bug. A bug will come in. It could come in with the mailman or maybe with the mail that’s delivered. It could be the person who’s cleaning outside. It could be anyone,” Getty said.
She recommends never putting a bag on the floor in public places like a hotel room or movie theater.
As for the bites, Getty said bed bugs are not known to carry disease and sometimes people don’t know they have bed bugs because their skin does not react to the bites.
“When a bed bug is actually biting you they’re injecting from their salivary glands, an excretion to anesthetize that area and to numb it so you don’t know you are being bitten,” she said.