Rental Trends: Bed Bugs and Locksmiths Among Fastest Growing Consumer Complaints
In what will surely come as no surprise to anybody in the multifamily industry, bed bugs were listed among the newest and fastest-growing complaints that local and state consumer protection agencies dealt with during the past 12 months, according to a survey released Tuesday.
The 2011 Consumer Complaint Survey Report is produced by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators and uses information generated by a survey of 38 state, county, and city consumer protection agencies from 22 states from March 2011 through May 2012.
The report’s top 10 complaints include familiar issues, such as auto sales and repair and credit/debt issues. But a set of real estate related complaints cracked the top 10 for the first time covering issues with timeshare sales and resales, retirement and assisted living facilities, and real estate fraud.
But as I scanned the report, I noticed a couple of items relative to the multifamily industry to make the fastest-growing complaints and worst complaints lists: bed bugs and locksmiths.
I’m not surprised to see bed bugs on this list. Last year, the issue took center stage at several multifamily industry events and it’s an issue we cover frequently on Property Management Insider. The report cited not only a rise in the number of complaints about bed bug infestations, but of property management companies and landlords not responding or taking appropriate action. So while progress has been made in educating the industry and residents about the issue, there is still work to be done.
Here are some steps for reducing the likelihood that bed bugs will become a problem at your properties:
- Develop an action plan based on education, prevention, inspection, and treatment (when necessary)
- Educate your residents about the signs of an infestation and the appropriate actions to take.
- Include a bed bug addendum in your lease. Contact your local apartment association for more information about the laws and regulations governing such actions in your state.
While I wasn’t surprised to see bed bugs in the report, I was caught off guard when I saw locksmiths. Here’s an excerpt from the report sharing one kind of problem:
The fastest-growing set of complaints to the California Department of Consumer Affairs involved bogus locksmiths and other firms that practice without proper licensing. Locksmiths use the Internet to advertise low prices to consumers in crises, including being locked out of their homes. But after disassembling locks, they often sharply raise their quoted prices. The department said it forced several such security companies to close, and made hundreds of others obtain proper licenses.
The report focuses on locksmiths but I believe the more important point deals with the text that I highlighted in bold: firms (i.e., contractors and vendors) that practice without proper licensing.
According to industry reports, more than 45 percent of vendors and contractors have experienced a lapse in general liability coverage in the past two years; 31 percent have had a lapse in auto liability coverage in the past two years; and 11 percent have relevant derogatory information in their file. No wonder complaints are rising.
Hiring a company to provide goods and services without first verifying its performance, criminal record and financial standing can result in fraud, unsatisfactory work and lost time and money. Here are tips to consider when you’re looking to hire not only a locksmith, but any kind of vendor:
- Do your homework and ask for recommendations rather than blindly picking names from the phone book or from search engine results
- Consider using a vendor management system that handles the time and expense of verifying and credentialing supplier information
- Check out vendors with your state Attorney General, local consumer protection agency, and the Better Business Bureau to make sure there are no unresolved complaints on file
- The Federal Trade Commission has some handy tips specifically for hiring a locksmith
For a summary of the report and to download a copy to read, visit the Consumer Federation of America website.