Philadelphia must enact a policy to fight bed bugs

 A recently fed male bed bug is found under a mattress during an extermination. (Bas Slabbers, for NewsWorks)

A recently fed male bed bug is found under a mattress during an extermination. (Bas Slabbers, for NewsWorks)

What is small, brown, round, and avoided by the City of Philadelphia like the plague? If you guessed bed bugs, you’d be right. Unlike most major cities, Philadelphia does not have a policy to deal with bed bugs. No city agency will take responsibility for addressing this serious issue.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that bed bugs are “a pest of significant public health importance.” But when bed bugs have you losing sleep and suffering panic attacks, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s response is to send you a fact sheet.

International Property Maintenance Code standards adopted by our city call for structures to be kept “free from insect infestation.” However the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections will not cite a property for bed bug infestation stating they are either not a structural pest or not an insect — neither of which is correct.

And as is often the case when you don’t have a plan, a nuisance becomes a crisis. In an annual ranking of bed bug-infested cities, Philadelphia ranked No. 2. We were No. 1, but Detroit took first place.

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People treat you like the plague when you say you have bed bugs, so you whisper the truth to a trusted friend. But the truth is that bed bugs don’t discriminate. Anyone can get bed bugs. Entire blocks of the city can get bed bugs. The only way to stop bed bugs is to establish a clear policy.

Although the folks in charge of health and buildings have decided bed bugs are not their problem, Philadelphians Against Bed Bugs disagrees. It’s a problem when you can’t get your landlord to address a bed bug infestation. It’s a problem when bed bugs needlessly cause another family to abandon furniture and mattresses they cannot afford to replace. It’s a problem when essential food, healthcare, and transportation services are denied because agencies won’t serve people who live with bed bugs.

Philadelphians Against Bed Bugs has a plan. The City of Philadelphia needs to adopt the Philadelphia Bed Bug Task Force‘s 2015 Policy Recommendations: Require property owners to keep their properties free of bed bugs. Implement a code enforcement policy that takes infestations seriously. Educate our city about best practices for extermination. And implement policies that keep our homes, schools, and workplaces free from infestation.

Until then, sleep tight.

David Wengert is a paralegal in the Housing unit of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

Philadelphians Against Bed Bugs is a coalition of organizations chaired by Liberty Resources and Tenant Union Representative Network. Contact PhABB at

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