Problem, research strategy, and findings: There has been a dramatic resurgence of bed bug infestations in the United States since the early 2000s. Bed bugs pose significant public health and economic concerns, but cities have been hampered in their response by the ambiguity of current public health and housing regulations toward bed bugs. In this study, I analyze municipal ordinances for more than 8,000 local governments, describe the responses of cities to the bed bug crisis, and examine the different approaches that cities have taken and the political–ecological processes underpinning these varying approaches. Few municipalities have addressed bed bugs in their codes. Most cities that have addressed bed bugs have sought to clarify that bed bugs are to be treated like other pests but, rather than crafting policies specific to bed bugs, have relied on existing code enforcement procedures. Only a handful of U.S. cities have taken a comprehensive approach to addressing the bed bug epidemic. Interests representing apartment owners have pushed back strongly against municipal and state action, complicating the response. It is still too early, and monitoring data are insufficient, to conclusively evaluate the success of municipal ordinances, but I describe potentially successful approaches based on considerations of public health response to infectious disease.
Takeaway for practice: Because human dwellings are the habitat of bed bugs, infestations are intimately tied to issues of housing affordability, insecurity and quality, eviction, and mobility. Cities should consider passing ordinances that specifically recognize bed bugs in the sections of their code that address public health, property maintenance, and landlord–tenant rights and responsibilities. Ordinances should be tailored to the specific challenges in addressing bed bug infestations and should include provisions for tenant protection, enforcement, and monitoring.
Read the article in Journal of the American Planning Association.