DALLAS - Bedbugs live on the blood of mammals. They eat while you sleep. And they're dining on more North Texas apartment dwellers every year.
"Sometimes I can't even get to bed at night," said Skyler Wells of the Park Timbers Apartments in Lewisville, who's had bedbugs in his apartment twice in the last four months. "I'm thinking they're crawling on me. I'm scratching myself. I'm taking three showers a night, because I'm thinking I'm gonna wash 'em all off me."
Chris McGinn of City of Lewisville Code Compliance Department said bedbugs weren't even on the city's radar three years ago. Now they're so numerous, the city has created a special category just for bed bug complaints.
But the insects are not isolated to Lewisville.
Dallas doesn't separate the kinds of vermin that can plague apartments in code compliance (rats vs. bedbugs, for example). But vermin complaints are up about a third this year over last.
Sandy Rollins of the Texas Tenants Union said she gets about one bedbug complaint a week.
That's because two years ago, the standard rental agreement used by most landlords in Texas began including a "Bedbug Addendum," which puts the burden of finding bedbugs in vacant apartment on the person renting it.
"That's a pretty impossible goal to meet, because bedbugs aren't visible in a vacant unit," Rollings said.
Bedbugs can be as small as poppy seeds and often live in electrical outlets.
The standard lease requires new renters to declare their new empty apartment bedbug-free upon moving in, or within 48 hours.
Renters can be billed for extermination charges, which can be hundreds of dollars, even if their apartments were infested before they move in. Infested furniture and mattresses have to be destroyed at their own expense, whether the infestation came with the renter or not.
The potential problem is compounded by infested couches and mattresses left in apartment dumpsters, which can be reclaimed by other residents, who don't realize there are bedbugs in them.
At Aventerra Apartments in Dallas, Amber Cotton said there are piles of furniture in her apartment's dumpsters every day.
Cotton has been fighting the insects in her apartment and has had one extermination session, paid for by her landlord, within the last two weeks. Before the bugs can be treated, the resident must bag up household goods, move furniture away from the walls, and remove face plates from electrical outlets.
Cotton sent her son to live with a relative out of state, so he wouldn't be exposed to bedbugs. The infestation often has psychological, as well as physical effects.
Cotton's apartment smelled of insecticide when News 8 visited her. Her landlord, who said there have been bedbug problems at the complex - which are now limited to Cotton's residence - has offered to have the apartment heat treated for the insects at the apartment's expense.
Back at Park Timbers in Lewisville, Skyler Wells has gotten an aggressive response from management after News 8 paid the apartment a visit. Wells said he's being allowed to move out without a penalty -- a rare concession, according to the Tenants Union.