Help! Bed bug-sniffing dogs marked my apartment

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

Dogs sniffing for bed bugs. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry — neither had I, until Roxana Sierra asked us for help with a $660 bill. I’ll let her pick up this story.

I rented an apartment in Clintonville, Ohio, from August 2012 to July 28, 2013. After I moved out, the management sent me a Move Out Statement with a charge of $660 for a “bed bug treatment.”

I was very surprised [to learn about this] treatment, since as far as I know I do not have bed bugs. I checked exhaustively in my bed/furniture and didn’t find a single bed bug (dead or alive), nor any other kind of traces like blood on the sheets or the mattress.

I talked to the manager of the apartment and she said they bring “trained dogs” to sniff for the bed bugs and they reacted “positively.” I asked for a picture of a bed bug or any other physical evidence, but they did not have any.

I have been trying to negotiate with them to prove I do not have bed bugs. I proposed to get a professional for a visual inspection of my current apartment, but they refused; they say it does not make any sense to do it since the dogs already reacted positively.

After I reviewed the correspondence between Sierra and the apartment managers, I could tell that this was going nowhere. I requested that the manager meet her in the middle on this bed bug treatment. Here is the manager’s response.

Unfortunately, I have to decline the offer to split the cost, as I cannot set a precedent with splitting costs we have incurred as a result of a residents move out charges. Fair Housing prohibits me from treating residents differently. We had several apartments that incurred the same costs for bed bug treatment. (None of them were located near her).

With that reply, I suggested to her that she get a pest control company to inspect her current residence for any signs of bed bugs (since most companies will perform an initial inspection for free) and get a report from them.

Sierra also took a good step on her own when she contacted Dr. Susan Jones, an entomologist at Ohio State University, for her input. Here is a bit from Dr. Jones:

The team approach to bed bug detection using a bed bug-sniffing dog and its handler can be a useful tool for detecting bed bugs, but it is not totally reliable.

Research shows that canine-handler teams can provide vastly different results, with some being quite poor at bed bug detection and others being quite good. My advice to people hiring these teams is that a “positive alert” has to be followed up with someone actually finding the bed bug(s) or bringing in a second independent team (no idea of previous findings of the first team) to see if a positive alert occurs in the same location in the room and then following up to actually locate the bed bug(s).

These dogs and their handlers are living beings and hence have “off” days. Relying simply on a canine alert without any evidence of bed bugs or their tell-tale signs (fecal deposits, shed exoskeletons [skins]) is a very poor practice. It means that some unnecessary bed bug treatments will be performed and their associated cost will be borne by someone.

Sierra followed our advice and had a national pest control company check out her new apartment, and they found no evidence of bed bugs on her belongings or in the apartment, and once she forwarded the report from them and the above letter from Dr. Jones, the manager saw it her way, and she was refunded the $660 for the bed bug treatment.

At least, she will get her deposit back, but let this serve as a warning to the rest of the world that those dogs that sniff for bed bugs (and other pests) may not be completely reliable.

If you can’t see the pests, they may not exist.

William Leeper is a consumer advocate based in Waldron, Ark. He mediated this case on behalf of one of this site’s readers. If you’d like to help by becoming a volunteer mediator, please send us an email.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    My first thoughts are, did the management at the previous apartment actually hire a pest control company to remediate the alleged bed bugs or are they just pocketing some extra money.

    One reason that I wonder is because of the managers BS statement about Fair Housing. Fair housing arises from civil rights. It deals with race, religion, gender, etc. It has nothing to do with settling a simple civil dispute over bed bugs and the return of a security deposit. The manager of a complex would know this so she’s lost major credibility with me.

  • Jeff Kolker

    Sounds like a scam to me…..

  • sirwired

    Sounds like an inexperienced manager is getting scammed. I expect the pest control company they’re using has a dog that thinks an apartment has bed bugs whenever the exterminator has another boat payment due.

    Also, I’m pretty sure it violates a rule somewhere to not let the tenant get somebody to perform their own inspection.

  • Raven_Altosk

    So, was this pooch an actual trained dog or just someone’s “emotional support animal?”

    I still stand by my earlier statements that if you cannot leave your house without your cat/dog/snake/bird/whatever because of your fragile mental state, please stay home.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I had the exact same thought.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The manger was either the scammer or the scammee.

  • Bill___A

    I’m wondering how reliable drug dogs used by law enforcement are, if “bed bug” dogs can have an off day. Good job on the mediation, by the way.

  • Christopher Elliott

    The travel industry has a long and tortured relationship with “emotional support” animals. I can’t help but notice that a pet owner already flagged this post.

  • EdB

    Did the landlord send a copy of the actual bill from this service? Don’t know about Ohio, but they would be required to in California. Was there an actual report from the service that bed bugs were found and did the landlord just expect the tenet to take their word for it? I’m curious as to what they charge to do this inspection. Is it so inexpensive that it’s practical to have them come in after every move out? Something is smelling a bit on the scammy side.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m a pet owner, too. I’m kept by a bunch of cats.
    But that’s the same thing as these nuts who claim they can’t fly without their snakes.

  • MarkieA

    With a drug dog at least – I’m assuming here, I thankfully have zero experience with drug dogs – if they “mark” you or your belongings, you’re not automatically hauled off to jail; a human being has to actually find the drugs the dog sniffed out.

  • EdB

    I believe you are right. A hit is only probable cause for allowing a search. If there is a hit but no drugs are found, then there is no evidence to warrant an arrest.

  • EdB

    Since there was no poll question, I’ll use your reply for one. :)

    I vote scammer.

  • Jose L Cruz

    I worked for a apartment management company while in my teens. Now, keep in mind that was a long time ago. Standard procedure when someone moved out was bombing the apartment with pesticide cans, cleaning with included steam cleaning carpets. This was the cost of business and these items were never passed on. The only costs that were pass were those of actual damage holes in walls, broken windows, ect. Seems like just about every industry is trying to pass on charges to the consumer that used to be the cost of doing business. From the airline baggage fees and now this. The phrase consumer beware has taken on an entirely new meaning.

  • TonyA_says

    Reminds me of the dog US Customs is using smelling you and your bags in the carousel area.

  • EvilEmpryss

    Do not doubt the drug dogs. Police dogs go through much stricter training than these “bug-sniffing” dogs do (or cancer-sniffing or any of the myriad of other kinds that have cropped up recently). Still, in most jurisdictions drug and cadaver dogs’ alerts still have to be backed up by actual evidence before anything can be done.

    Bed bugs are in the news where I live, so I think this setup is likely a scam in one way or another, playing on people’s ignorance and fears. Whether it’s the manager scamming the tenants or a pest company scamming the manager, I don’t know. I think I would have threatened small claims action and seen if the manager was willing to back up their case in court.

  • Travelnut

    I hope they also refunded her what she paid out of pocket for an examination by another exterminator.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Usually your snark is funny, but this one’s isn’t. Legitimate emotional support animals have been used for people with HIV, cancer, and other serious conditions.

  • Carver Clark Farrow


  • Raven_Altosk

    True, but after sitting next to an “emotional support snake” I’m calling BS on the majority of them.

  • jim6555

    I’m highly allergic to cats. Now I understand why I start sneezing every time that I read one of you comments. :)

  • llandyw

    There is one problem with drug dogs. If the handler is a jerk, they can claim a hit (or make it look like there was one) when there wasn’t just so they can get their “probable cause” to harass someone. Seen video of this occurring. A person had their phone recording while this handler had his dog jumping on the hood and door of the car, then could find nothing. But you could see the handler using the leash to get the dog to jump, providing a false positive or “hit”. When they found the phone recording they promptly turned it over so it would no longer show video. One had commented that the car owner knew his constitutional rights. This particular episode was a clear case of harassment/civil rights violations by both the officer that pulled him over and the handler as well.

  • Frank Windows

    As far as I know, there’s a very easy way to detect bed bugs: BED BUG BITES, usually on the ankles, legs and arms.

    We had bed bugs once (brought them home from a nice hotel; my wife travels with her own pillow). Once we figured out what was biting us, the fix was easy: Wash the sheets in hot water, thoroughly vacuum the head- and foot-board, mattress and surrounding floor, sprinkle bed bug powder (diatomaceous earth) liberally around the bed and vacuum it up later. Total cost for the treatment was under $30 and we haven’t had a problem since.

    $660 to detect bed bugs that probably weren’t there is a rip off — for the landlord as well as the tenant.

  • EdB

    While I support the use of “legitimate” emotional support animals, I personally feel that there are a lot of people who use that term just to get away with taking their animal places where they don’t belong.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That may very well be. But the comment was still inappropriate.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m somewhat skeptical. There are much easier ways to harass for the police to harass someone.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Maybe the phrase should be “consumer bend-over”.

  • EdB

    Interesting story I found while doing some research on bedbug sniffing dogs…

  • Cybrsk8r

    There’s actually a pretty easy way to prevent bed-bugs from hitching a ride home from the hotel. Just leave your bags in the car for a day or two. A temperature of just under 120F will kill bed bugs, and it will get much hotter than that in your car. Just remember to remove any aerosol cans which might blow up.

    It also works in the winter. The freezing temps also kill the little buggers.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    WHOA! Another clever way to extract money from your clients; this one has to be ranked right up there for creativity. The car rental companies should get right on this, they could make a fortune claiming that their car was returned with bedbugs on luggage picked up at your hotel. They have your credit card and authorization to bill you after you return the car, what could be easier for them?

  • backprop

    “The researchers took 18 drug dog teams to a church, where it is
    likely no drugs or explosives had ever been placed in the past. The
    cops were told there might be up to three target scents in any one of
    four rooms. If they saw a piece of red construction paper in the room,
    that indicated where a target scent was placed.

    The first room was left untouched. The second room had a piece of
    red construction paper on a cabinet. The third room had two sausages
    and two tennis balls placed as decoys. The fourth room had the decoy
    scents and the red paper. However, none of the rooms had any drugs or

    There shouldn’t have been any alerts, but, in fact, handlers
    indicated their dog had alerted in every room. There were more alerts
    in rooms with red paper (which piques the cop’s interest) and no
    corresponding increase in rooms with sausages and tennis balls (which
    would pique a dog’s interest).”

  • Rebecca

    I flew from Chicago to San Diego (for a move) recently with my 90lb dog. It cost more than my husband and I paid for our flights and baggage, combined and doubled, to get my dog to CA (over $1000). He’s worth every penny, but I suspect that’s why people have these “emotional support” animals on a plane.

  • Rebecca

    I was once at a wake and funeral with an emotional support pit bull in training. I drew the line there!

  • William_Leeper

    The landlord did provide a copy of the invoice for the heat treatment of the apartment, and said that they do not charge the tenants for the dog inspection.

    The inspection company did apparently use a two team approach to the inspection, but all parties came up empty when it came to actually finding a bedbug.

  • William_Leeper

    She actually did not incur any additional charges. I recommended to her to contact a major national chain pest control company for the simple matter that they usually do not charge anything for the inspection and consultation.

  • William_Leeper

    The $660 was for the heat treatment of the apartment to get rid of the bedbugs, not a fee for the inspection. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear in the write up.

  • EdB

    Did the inspection company also provide the treatment service? If so, they have a vested interest in getting a “hit” so they can sell the service.

    Are you the advocate that mediated this matter? I didn’t realize it wasn’t one of Chris’ until I went back and reread the resolution portion.

  • William_Leeper

    The inspection company and the treatment companies are separate companies according to the apartment manager.

    And indeed I am the advocate who handled this case and did the write up on it.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I should probably add that William really stayed on their case for a long time to get this resolution. I was really impressed by his tenacity. It’s a good quality to have in an advocate.

  • William_Leeper

    I actually did suggest small claims court to this reader while I was mediating it. It didn’t come to that thankfully, but it definitely had that potential.

  • William_Leeper

    Thanks Chris. I do this because you have helped me out, and I am passing that on! I couldn’t care less if I ever get recognized for it, but thank you!

  • Randy Culpepper

    Some people, myself included, don’t react to bedbug bites.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yup, and how they get around “no pets” in apartments. Hell, you can buy a “service animal” vest online and because the ADA is written so badly, no one can really question an animal wearing it.

  • emanon256

    I know I am late to the party on its. But my wife who is a licensed PhD Psychologist always insists that there is no such thing as a legitimate emotional support animal. This is a pop psychology phenomenon based on the advice of un-licensed psychotherapists and family practitioners who are trying to help people out. There is no valid research to support emotional support animals. By valid I mean empirical based research published in a peer reviewed journal that is nationally recognized. There is a lot of opinion based information published in non-reviewed pay for publication journals. However, a licensed psychologist can not prescribe something that is not recognized as appropriate therapy, including emotional support animals. un-licensed psychotherapists and GPs don’t have the same requirements, or should they practice outside of their area of competence, but there is no recourse if they do.

    Yes, animals have been shown to make people feel better, and they are used in a medical setting to calm and help cancer patients and other terminally ill patients. However, if someone can’t survive without their animal, they really need a psychological evaluation and there are much safer, better, recognized interventions and therapies that can assist them.

    The ADA was even amended recently to state that emotional support animals are specifically excluded as service animals. However, as the ADA has a don’t ask policy, no one can ask.

  • Grey

    It’s not BS. What if the next person who wants to negotiate their security deposit happens to be a minority? If you deny them, you open yourself up to a civil rights complaint. I’ve been there as an apartment manager and have had claims dismissed simply because there is no evidence I ever treated a resident differently than the others.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    If we accepted that logic, anytime you did anything, you would have that worry. You would be completely paralyzed. You could never refund a security deposit. And as I stated, it would be a monumental undertaking to extract a civil rights suit from the fact that one tenant got money back because of the lack of evidence of bug bites.

  • Roxana Sierra

    I want to add that the manager just forwarded an email from the dog company saying they sent two dogs. No more details as in when, where exactly the dogs reacted. I returned the keys on a Sunday night and the treatment was performed the following Tuesday.

    Somebody commented about drug dogs. When a dog reacts, somebody always looks for the drug, so same should be done for the bed bugs.

    I also wanted to add that Dr. Jones shared a study by Rutgers university, they found an average accuracy of 43% (ranging from 11-80% for the companies used in the study). The manager said that dogs are 98% accurate but according with such study it is far from truth.

    If anybody is interested here is the link for the study:

    I also want to thank William because he was there with me for several days trying to come to an agreement with the manager and he gave me the great advice on getting my own inspection with a big company, and it was free of charge! The inspector at the end told me “do not pay for the treatment, even if there were only eggs they should have come with you and already hatched, do not pay them, tell the manager she can call me”

    During all this time I just felt the manager didn’t want to give me a chance to prove I do not have bed bugs. I proposed the several times to come and do a visual inspection with a certified inspector, the manager always said it didn’t make sense, however Dr. Jones said it made “lots of sense”. Dr. Jones also told me she could speak with the manager. I think that also really helped.

  • mizmoose


    Show me at least two legitimate research studies published in peer reviewed journals and then I will freely admit that “emotional support animals” are good therapy.

    And I say at least two because the only good research studies are repeatable research studies.

  • Lily

    Wow what a crazy story. Makes me appreciate having a good apartment here in Lubbock. One thing about bed bugs though – you would KNOW if you had them so it sounds like maybe it was just a way for the landlord to get money out of tenants. Glad you got your money back!

  • Ayman Abbas

    I had the same problem with my association management. They hired a company for a bedbug inspection with a sniffing dog to inspected the building for bed bug! So the company showed up in my condo with no uniform or anything just a regular cloths & it took them less then 10min to tell my I have a bedbug in my mom bed , my bed & the dresser & I have to pay 550$ for the treatment! So I was shocked cuz I never been bitten or seen a bedbug in my condo not even a sign of them! So when I told the guy that he told me it’s early stages u can’t see them!!! & when I refused to do the treatment the management threaded me by taking me to the court cuz I’m going to infected other condos so I hired a deferent company & they inspected my house virtually & they told me I don’t have any bed bug in my condo so when I showed the report to the association management they refused to believe me cuz them company’s dog r positive 98% & it’s more acquired then human!! So I’m going back & forth with them… Don’t know what to do,!!!
    Thank you.