Most of us grew up thinking that bedbugs were make-believe, like the monster under the bed. Unfortunately, they are not. With the prohibition of the pesticide DDT and the increase in global travel, bedbugs have returned in force to infest dwellings and public spaces throughout the United States.
Treatment for bedbugs can be expensive. Laws regarding the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in a bedbug situation vary greatly. A few states and many cities have addressed the issue. Increasingly, tenants are taking legal action.
Are Bedbugs the Landlord’s Fault?
Many states and cities impose a duty on landlords to maintain their building in a “habitable condition” that includes freedom from pests.
Landlords and property management firms want to avoid bedbugs just as much as their tenants do. After all, an infestation can lead to treatment costs, lost rents, lawsuits and damaged reputations. Many conscientious landlords are conducting bedbug inspections (and treatments, if necessary) of vacant apartments before renting them out. Such “bedbug free” documentation can protect them from liability.
Are Bedbugs the Tenant’s Fault?
Often, tenants are the ones who inadvertently introduce bedbugs to an apartment. They do so by purchasing second-hand items like furniture (especially mattresses), decorative items or clothing. They host infested friends or relatives. They pick up bedbugs on their own travels, in hotels, on public transportation or public venues – and bring them home
There is no link between income or hygiene and bedbugs. In fact, high-income individuals who travel frequently suffer the most outbreaks. Bedbugs often travel between locations on suitcases.
Tenants who discover bedbugs in their apartments often try to get their landlords to pay for the cost of treatment. Sometimes, they try to sue for damages. However, it can be very difficult to prove that an infestation is the landlord’s responsibility and not the tenant’s.
What Should You Do?
Before renting a residence, ask the landlord specifically if the space has ever been infested with bedbugs. The landlord must disclose this fact.
If you discover bedbugs in your apartment, let the landlord know immediately. Also, check with other tenants to see if they are experiencing the same problem. If bedbugs have spread to multiple units and a building’s common spaces, this is usually a wider problem and the landlord’s responsibility.
If you introduced the infestation, you are responsible for treatment. Failure to do so can be grounds for eviction. When the cause is unclear, tenants and landlords often split the cost. If the apartment was already infested when you moved in, and you can prove it and have filed complaints, it is the landlord’s problem. In many states, you can withhold rent or break your lease. Check your local laws.
In all cases, tenants must comply with treatment efforts.
A Bedbug Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding bedbug infestations in rental apartments can be complicated. In fact, it has given rise to a whole new practice of bedbug law. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. Find more information on landlord tenant law. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a lawyer in your area.