Bed bugs don’t care if you live in an upscale Manhattan high-rise or a Detroit tenement - they will happily set up residence anywhere with an ample supply of blood. What happens when bed bugs invade your rented living space? Who pays for the costly extermination process? It is important you know your tenant and landlord rights concerning bed bugs.
Bed Bugs and Landlords
Landlords must provide their tenants with what is termed a ‘safe and livable home’. This is referred to in legal terms as the ‘implied warranty of habitability.’ All 50 states fall under this requirement except Arkansas. This means that all rodents, vermin, or insect infestations must be dealt with.
Who Pays, Landlord or Tenant?
In most circumstances, a rental infested with blood sucking insects is not considered habitable. However, there is a catch. If the tenant did not introduce the bed bugs, then the landlord is responsible for paying to get rid of the infestation. But if the tenant brought the bed bugs into the residence then the landlord is not responsible for paying. In a multi-unit building it is hard to determine who brought the bed bugs into the building so the landlord will usually end up paying for extermination. However, in a single-family residence, the landlord might refuse to pay for extermination if the tenant has resided at the house for an extended period and experiences a sudden bed bug infestation. Under such circumstances, the tenant likely introduced bed bugs into the environment accidentally, possibly with a recent furniture purchase or after traveling.
Contacting Your Landlord About Bed Bugs
If you have a bed bug infestation it is imperative that you contact your landlord or property management promptly to report the problem. Your landlord should respond by hiring a qualified exterminator to inspect the rental unit. The landlord must provide a notice of entry for the exterminator’s inspection to proceed.
There is no federal law in place to govern bed bugs and landlords. However, certain states do have specific laws that outline the landlord and tenant duties when dealing with a bed bug infestation.
Typical steps include:
- Report the infestation within a certain period such as 24 to 48 hours.
- Cooperate with the landlord's extermination efforts.
- Always comply with the control measures specified by the landlord.
Renters Insurance and Bed Bugs
Renter’s insurance will not typically pay for bed bug eradication or to replace any personal belongings that might have been damaged by the insects. Prior to purchasing renter’s insurance, you should always read the fine print to determine what is and is not covered under the policy.
Bed Bug History and Disclosures
Many states or cities have passed laws that require landlords to disclose any history of bed bugs on a property, if asked. A landlord also cannot rent a residence if there is a known bed bug infestation.
Local laws typically require landlords to:
- Provide complete information about bed bugs to tenants such as how to identify a bed bug or how to prevent bed bug infestations.
- Require tenants to immediately notify the landlord of an infestation.
- Investigate any bed bug infestation reports within 24 to 48 hours of the report.
- Hire a qualified exterminator if there is an infestation.
- Promptly notify tenants of any bed bug infestations in the unit.
Ideally, you should always ask the landlord if there has been a bed bug infestation on a property before you move in and get it in writing.
What to Do if Your Landlord Fails to Pay for Extermination
Laws vary by state, but if your landlord refuses to pay for the cost of extermination then you may be able to take the following steps:
- Deduct the entire cost of extermination from your rent
- Break your lease
- Withhold rent
- Sue the landlord
At this time, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 21 states have laws that govern bed bugs specifically. You should research the local laws before renting a home to familiarize yourself with what to do in the case that your rental experiences a bed bug infestation.
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