Most of us basically know the difference between right and wrong, but one apartment tenant asked New York Times ethics columnist, Randy Cohen, if they should disclose the presence of a bed bug infestation to their neighbors.
The answer to this seems self-evident for anyone with a slightly-tuned moral compass. But then maybe it’s not—it should be noted that while legislation is in the works, there is no formal law compelling tenants to disclose if they have had bed bugs. In fact, property managers often discouraged residents from informing neighbors about an existing infestation:
We had our co-op apartment treated for bedbugs. When we informed the co-op board, they said it was up to us whether to alert our neighbors. The management company advised us not to, for fear of spreading panic.
Having your property manager discourage full disclosure makes short-sighted financial sense but also sets the housing complex up for long-term woes. Bed Bug Central agrees with Cohen’s position that all apartment tenants/owners in the complex should be notified of a potential infestation. And there are very legitimate reasons to support this position:
[Renters] can’t take precautions unless they’re aware of the risks of infestation, and that’s information they have a right to. If you know that people face a genuine, albeit insect-size, peril, you have a duty to let them know so they can protect themselves.
Better still, the building’s management company should warn all tenants about this infestation, so that you will not be embarrassed or become the target of neighborly animosity. Residents should also be provided with a list of measures they can take to protect themselves, including the names of some pest-control companies skilled at detecting and eradicating bedbugs. That is the management company’s obligation, and the co-op board should order its enforcement.
It turns out that the tenants in question, ultimately opted not to tell their neighbors about the bed bug infestation for which they received treatment. The fear of revealing to your neighbors that there is a bed bug infestation is enough to make one’s skin crawl and the property managers “information black out” posture certainly did not inspire confidence.
As we see it, three things should have occurred in this situation:
- The affected tenants should have informed property managers of their bed bug infestation (happened).
- Property managers should have informed all residents that an apartment was treated for bed bugs, thereby preserving the anxious renter’s anonymity and informing other renters of the situation (did not happen).
- Finally, apartment managers should have provided residence with important information on the insect, how to protect themselves and locate a qualified pest management professional if need arises (did not happen).
These tenants had the right intentions to begin with but were sidetracked by questionable management practices and lack of policy. If faced with this situation, full disclosure is best. After all, it shouldn’t take legal compulsion to make us good neighbors.