Should the landlord or the tenant deal with bed bugs found on the property?
I’d like to apologize in advance if reading this makes you itchy, but this topic is one that frequently comes up for landlords.
There’s been a bed bug renaissance of sorts across the country because these disgusting critters have become resistant to pesticides.
Most Infested Cities
The cities with the worst bed bug infestations in 2014, according to the number of Terminix service calls (source), were the following:
- Philadelphia, PA
- Cincinnati, OH
- New York City, NY
- Detroit, MI
- Chicago, IL
- Boston, MA
- Dallas, TX
- Columbus, OH
- Baltimore, MD
- Washington, D.C.
- Houston, TX
- Denver, CO
- Indianapolis, IN
- Los Angeles, CA
- Cleveland, OH
Even if you don’t own property in one of the top 15 cities, your rental property could still get bed bugs in various ways. One common way is your tenant bringing them in after traveling. (Note: travelers can check the Bed Bug Registry before choosing a hotel.)
Bed bugs can attach to your tenant’s clothing, luggage and backpacks and can be transported back to your rental property that way. Because it can be difficult to determine how the bed bugs arrived, especially in an apartment building, you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with that question.
Top 5 Questions About Rentals & Bed Bugs
Ring Ring… I think we have bed bugs!
1. What’s the First Step?
If your tenant calls you in a panic, stating that there are bed bugs, keep calm. The problem might not be bed bugs; it could be fleas or roaches.
Call an exterminator to diagnose the problem. The exterminator should look at all mattresses and bedding in the rental property. He should also look in couches, drawers, closets and shelves.
The first step is to treat the problem before it gets worse. You can always figure out the responsibility later.
2. Who is Responsible to Remove the Bed Bugs?
Responsibility should fall on whomever brought them in the house.
An exterminator might be able to tell you how the bed bugs arrived. For example, if a swarm of bed bugs is found in the tenants luggage and he just got back from a business trip, then you certainly could hold the tenant responsible.
But generally speaking, fault is difficult to prove, particularly in an apartment building. In this case, a resident of another unit could have brought in the bed bugs, and those bed bugs could have then traveled from the infested apartment to your rental through floorboards or small cracks in the walls.
The question of who brought in the bed bugs is easier to determine if the rental in question is a single-family house. But even then, a maintenance person, not the tenant, could have brought in the bed bugs.
3. Who Should Pay for the Exterminator?
If the bed bugs were present before your tenant moved in, you need to pay for an exterminator.
If you do nothing about the bed bug infestation, your tenant can take actions against you, such as paying for an exterminator and deducting that amount from the rent or even breaking the lease or suing you for not providing a livable dwelling under the implied warranty of habitability doctrine.
If the tenant brought in the bed bugs, the question of who pays for an exterminator might depend on the state in which you live. As of April 2014, 22 states and one territory have laws addressing bed bugs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If your state has no regulations and you can prove the tenant brought in the bed bugs, you can charge your tenant for the cost to remove them.
4. What are the Best Ways to Get Rid of Bed Bugs?
Getting rid of bed bugs is a time-consuming process that your tenant must be on board with. Once your tenant notifies you of the bed bug problem, you need to act immediately. The longer you wait, the worse the problem becomes.
Here are steps to have your tenant take:
Tenant needs to clean up any clutter. Clutter provides a perfect place for bed bugs to hide, and it makes the treatment process more difficult.
- Encase or Trash the Mattress
If bed bugs are in the mattress, enclosing the mattress and box springs in a special bed bug encasement product prevents the bed bugs from coming out. The encasement needs to stay on for a year.
- Wash Everything
Tenant needs to wash all bedding (blankets, sheets, bedspreads) and all clothing that’s been on the floor in a washing machine under hot water and then put the laundry in the dryer under a medium or high setting for at least 20 minutes and up to 45 minutes.
- Vacuum Everything (twice)
Tenant should vacuum the rugs, floors, furniture, bed and all cracks found in rooms and then dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag in an outdoor garbage bin.
Here’s what the exterminator should do:
- Move/Disassemble Furniture
- Use High Heat/Steam Treatments
Exterminators have special equipment that raises the temperature in the bed bug area to 118 F and then maintains that temperature for 70 minutes.
- Use Professional-Strength Insecticide
General over-the-counter insecticides probably won’t work on bed bugs
- Seal Furniture
Infested furniture might need to be sealed in a container until the bed bugs die.
Once the bed bugs are gone, your property can become infested again. Make sure your tenant knows not to bring in mattresses and other furniture found on the street.
You might also wish to share with your tenant some best practices when traveling:
- Check the headboard and around the bed.
- Inspect luggage stands.
- Look at the sheets for fecal spots.
- Inspect luggage before bringing it back into the home.
This useful video shows you how professionals get rid of bed bugs.
5. Can my Tenant Terminate the Lease?
Your tenant might be able to break the lease if he or she told you about the bed bug problem and you did nothing about it.
Your tenant needs to give you proper notice (which varies by state) of his or her intention to break the lease and time to fix the problem.
You should never knowingly rent property infested with bed bugs. You could be sued for doing that. If your tenant can prove you knew, you might be ordered to pay damages.