An airline pilot who was quarantined in a central city apartment in Auckland with bed bugs has been awarded compensation of $3185.
Jake Blatchford was badly afflicted with bites from bed bugs almost immediately after moving into a furnished apartment in Wakefield St, according to a Tenancy Tribunal decision.
After seeking medical advice, doctors considered the marks on his skin could be chicken pox, although this was unlikely because he had previously had the illness.
Even so, as an airline pilot he was required to be quarantined in the apartment and prevented from boarding a plane for a training course in Australia.
The apartment was subsequently found to be infested with bed bugs and Blatchford had to throw away clothing, luggage and other personal property.
Ms Ho, a real estate agent for the landlords, Matthew Ka Wah Lo and Nyuk Fung Kiw, told the tribunal she had the premises treated as soon as she was made aware of the bed bug problem and arranged for Blatchford to use another apartment in the same building for three weeks.
She agreed the tenancy could be ended on a date nominated by Blatchford without a period of notice, saying the tenants that moved in after he left had no problem with bed bugs.
Ho queried whether the bed bugs could have been introduced by Blatchford from staying in hotel rooms as part of his work.
Blatchford disputed this, telling the tribunal he had not been staying in hotels as he was undergoing training for work as an international pilot and had not started flying to destinations that required hotel stays.
The tribunal found there was no evidence to suggest the bed bug problem was caused by Blatchford.
"It seems more probable than not, on the available evidence, that the apartment was infested with bed bugs prior to the start of his tenancy," the decision said.
The tribunal found the bed bug problem was unintentional on the part of the landlord but a breach of Residential Tenants Act that requires a landlord to provide premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness.
The landlord was ordered to pay Blatchford $1185.20 for loss of personal property and $2000 as a partial rent rebate.
Entomologist Dr Paul Craddock said bed bugs have become an increasing issue in the past 20 years from a huge surge in globalisation, people travelling more and the insects becoming more resistant to insecticides. Many cases occurred at backpackers, hotels and motels.
Craddock, operations manager for the pest control company Flybusters, said it dealt with dozens of cases a year in New Zealand and companies that specialised in bed bugs do a lot more.
Apart from the ick factor, bed bugs are no worse than being bitten by mosquitoes or fleas and do not spread disease, he said.
"They are one of the most difficult pest insects to get rid of because of their secretive nature. They are very hard to find, hard to detect and hard to kill," Craddock said.
Tell tail signs of bed bugs include being bitten but having a house with no pets to attract fleas, bites in winter when there are no mosquitoes and little blood spots on bed linen. Another sign is bites under clothing.
Bed bugs in NZ
The two common species in New Zealand are Cimex hemipterus (the Tropical bed bug) and Cimex lectularius, (the Common bed bug). Bed bugs (Cimex spp.) are insects (True bugs, order hemiptera) that are wingless and flattened. Adults are a reddish brown, 5-6mm when unfed to almost 10mm when fully blood engorged. They are tiny and flat.
Bed bugs hide in the cracks and crevices of beds, box springs, headboards, bed frames and any other objects around a bed.
Bed bugs are able to crawl and rapidly move short distances within an infected area, and move to other rooms. They can find their way into purses, backpacks, suitcases, briefcases, clothing, and jackets.
If a bedbug bites your skin, you won't feel it right away because the bugs excrete a tiny amount of anaesthetic before feeding on people. Bed bug bites often become noticeably red and swollen. Multiple bites may appear in a line or cluster in a small area of your body.
Signs of bed bugs include red, itchy bites, marked arms and shoulders and uncomfortable nights.
It takes anywhere from 3-10 minutes for a bed bug to complete a meal, by which time they are full. Once they are finished, they return to their hiding place for several days to digest the meal.
Some ways to get rid of bed bugs permanently include:
• Know the signs of bed bug activity.
• Vacuum the house thoroughly.
• Wash infested items in hot water.
• Be careful when travelling.
• Do not use bed bug bombs and pesticides.
• Use diatomaceous earth powder.
• Trap the bugs.
• Discard heavily infested items.