You’ve found your dream rental and are loving your new place, but after moving in, you discover that you can’t sleep. You start itching and scratching everywhere and it’s driving you crazy.
And it slowly starts to dawn on you that you might have bedbugs.
It’s gross and scary. You start to ask some very important questions like:
Can you have your landlord pay to get rid of them? Are you on the hook for doing so? How do you report this issue the right way?
In this article, I am going to answer these questions and more. I will provide an overview of the legal landscape on this topic and provide you some tips on what to do if your landlord is not being responsive to your requests to exterminate these pests from your home.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
Bedbug infestations can make a rental uninhabitable, so landlords are typically required to exterminate them. A common exception to this general rule is if the tenant is responsible for the presence of the bedbugs, in which case, it becomes the tenant’s responsibility.
Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it!
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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You Have a Right to a Habitable Home Under Law
There is a legal principle called the implied warranty of habitability which is baked into most leases. In simple terms, it means that a tenant is promised a livable and safe home. Source.
Most states have adopted this implied warranty of habitability in some form or another and they typically include pests as something that can make a rental home uninhabitable.
Some states like California put the burden on the landlord to keep the premises free of vermin, like bedbugs. Source. But they also excuse landlords if the bedbug infestation is the tenant’s fault. Source.
In fact, some even have specific laws relating to bed bugs. According to one article, there are 25 states that have adopted bed bug laws (although when I looked through them not all of them applied to renters – many dealt with hotels). Source.
Now I have been speaking in generalities so far, but if you want a definitive answer, you will need to research what your applicable laws have to say about the elimination of bed bugs and who is responsible. Alternatively, you can ask a lawyer to help you navigate your state and local laws.
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
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When Is It My Fault and When Is It the Landlord’s?
One of the key questions in determining who is responsible for eliminating bed bugs is how did the bed bugs get into the rental property in the first place.
These annoying creatures can make their way to your new home through your luggage or furniture, especially if you buy second-hand furniture. They might also be in the movers’ truck and hide in your stuff, spreading into your new apartment after you’ve settled in.
Yet, in some cases, there might be a problem with the apartment caused by a previous tenant or the landlord himself. Bedbugs can hide in several items, including backpacks, upholstered furniture, and mattresses, and can easily travel between apartments in multi-unit buildings.
Now as we mentioned, as long as you haven’t introduced the bedbugs’ problem, your landlord is likely obliged to have this issue fixed.
However, if you’ve lived in the unit for quite some time without issue and bed bugs surface, your landlord will probably hold you responsible for the bedbug problem because he delivered a bed bug-free dwelling to you.
What Should I Do if I Find Bedbugs in My Apartment?
Acting fast is recommended when you find bedbugs in your apartment. So, if you find yourself scratching your skin, see blood spots on your bedding or find the bedbugs’ poo spots on your furniture, you should do the following.
- Report the problem to the landlord as soon as possible, ideally within 24 to 48 hours.
- Cooperate with the landlord to help eliminate this problem.
- Comply with any safety measures to eradicate bedbugs from your property.
- Clean up your space if you have any clutter that might contribute to the spread of bedbugs.
What Happens When You Report Bedbugs to the Landlord?
Typically, a professional pest control service should examine the apartment and assess the severity of the infestation. A professional should check the mattresses, furniture pieces, closets, and drawers to see how bad the problem is.
Not only will this help with the elimination, but it can also determine how long the unit has been infested and the spots where the infestation might have started.
The exterminator will remove all clothing items, furniture items, and clutter. They will also clean all washable items like bedding and curtains and put them in sealed bags, vacuum rugs, and carpets.
Ideally, the exterminator will ask you to move out during the treatment and tell you about a safe time frame when you can return to your place. Then, the treatment will be applied, and heavily infested items that can’t be cleaned or vacuumed will be destroyed and discarded.
Treating common areas is usually recommended because bedbugs can easily travel to adjacent units. In addition, any cracks in ceilings or walls should be repaired.
What Can I Do if My Landlord Refuses to Pay for a Professional Extermination Service?
If your landlord is responsible for clearing out the infestation, but refuses to take action and your bedbug problem is getting worse, you may be able to do the following.
- Withhold rent until the issue is resolved.
- Hire an extermination service and deduct the cost from your rent.
- Move out early.
- Sue your landlord for any harm or cost endured.
Warning: Before you do any of these actions, you should consult an attorney to see if your state and local laws permit these remedies – many do not. If you so them anyway, you could get evicted or sued for breach of contract!
A good place to get help in this situation is through your local tenants rights organization or your local housing authority. Both should have some expertise in this area.
So there you have it – a comprehensive look at your rights when you get a bed bug infestation. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!