So You Have Bed Bugs.
Who is Responsible?
The Landlord or the Tenant?
The tenant-landlord relationship in regards to bed bugs is an itchy one. Landlords are frustrated because it is an expensive and hassle-filled ordeal, and ultimately, in most cases, a tenant caused the problem. After all, someone unwittingly brought the bed bugs into the building in the first place.
Tenants with bed bugs live every single moment in fear of their own home. To make things worse, ridding the property of bed bugs is often frustrating. It can be an invasive and time consuming process, leaving tenants filled with anxiety, dread and uncertainty that the bed bugs are in fact gone for good.
The landlord must address the problem.
It is the landlord who is ultimately responsible for making sure the residence is bed bug free, and that the pests do not /have not spread to other units in the building. Failure to do so opens landlords up to significant civil liability, including but not limited: to lost rents, paying tenant’s utilities, tenant hotel stays, damages to furniture and clothing, tenant medical bills, pain suffering and emotional distress. A quick search of the term “bed bug lawyer” should make any landlord realize that a head in the sand approach to bed bugs is a huge mistake.
Tenants have obligations too.
Tenants have a legal obligation to report bed bugs immediately upon discovery. Many people don’t report a bed bug infestation because they feel embarrassed, and try to self-treat the problem with off-the-shelf remedies. If not used aggressively, many of these products only make the problem worse, since bed bugs can quickly build an immunity to the chemicals. Some products only serve to annoy bed bugs, pushing them deep into the walls where they continue to lay eggs out of reach of chemical treatments. A tenant that fails to quickly notify the landlord allows the problem to get worse, and shifts the blame and liability onto the tenant.
Tenants also have an obligation to assist and cooperate with the exterminator. They are required to give unobstructed access to every square inch of their residence and belongings. Tenants are also responsible for washing and drying all of their clothes and laundry in hot water and high heat, and keeping those clothes in sealed plastic bags or bins for the entirety of the treatment process. Removing pets and food from treated areas.
Failure to report a bed bug infestation, or failure to properly cooperate with the exterminator is grounds for eviction. The landlord after all is responsible for ridding the property of bed bugs and making sure they don’t spread to other units. A tenant who refuses to cooperate or makes the problem worse only opens the landlord up to liability, further hassle, and damages. Bed bugs must be removed for the safety of other tenants and the property.
While it is the responsibility of the landlord to solve the problem, the cost is not necessarily on the landlord’s dime. It all comes down to proof, and the origination of bed bugs is often hard or impossible to prove.
The cost of treating a bed bug infestation is significant. In the US, exterminators often charge $300-$800 per room. A building-wide infestation can cost tens of thousands of dollars to remedy.
It comes down to this question: Were the bed bugs in the unit before the move-in? Did they come from a neighboring infestation? Or did the tenants bring the bed bugs to the unit with them? These questions are often hard to determine or prove.
Tenants should check for bed bugs before moving in, including signs of moulted skins or droppings. Signs of bites or bugs themselves right after move-in should be well documented. These signs don’t necessarily mean the apartment was infested prior to the move-in. Bed bugs can be the result of the tenants furniture being infested from their previous residence. Moving trucks are also notorious carriers of bed bugs. A unit treated before move-in does not mean it is free and clear of bed bugs. Bed bugs are extremely difficult to treat, and one single bed bug remaining alive can cause a new infestation in the future. These scenarios are endless, complicated, and difficult to conclusively prove.
Bed bugs don’t have to be a nightmare when they’re caught early.
A single female bed bug can lay 1-7 eggs a day. Within 45 days, those eggs become adults capable of laying their own eggs. You can see how a single bedbug hitchhiking from a movie theater, hotel, or hundreds of other locations into your home or a tenant’s unit can quickly lead to a full blown infestation. Early detection is the difference between fighting off a few bed bugs and their unhatched eggs or trying to rid your home from tens of thousands.
All landlords should consider implementing a continuous pest monitoring program that is well documented. It should allow tenants to quickly report signs of bed bugs at any time of day, and should create a well-documented history showing a lack of bed bugs. Monitoring traps used properly and checked frequently will detect bed bugs and pests early, will give clues about possible spread, and will help determine where they originated.
With bed bug and pest history documented, incoming tenants can move in comfortably knowing their new apartment is bed bug free. On top of that, landlords can sleep well knowing that if and when bed bugs become a problem, matter can be addressed quickly, easily, be less costly, and without risk to their reputation or risk of a civil liability.