How to Deal with Bed Bugs at Your Rental Property

Written on April 28, 2015 by , updated on November 3, 2016

bed bugShould 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:

 

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.

Related: How to Kill Roaches in a Rental Property

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:

  1. Declutter
    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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Move/Disassemble Furniture
  2. 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.
  3. Use Professional-Strength Insecticide
    General over-the-counter insecticides probably won’t work on bed bugs
  4. 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:

  1. Check the headboard and around the bed.
  2. Inspect luggage stands.
  3. Look at the sheets for fecal spots.
  4. 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.

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136 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Michelle Landry

    My issue here is that, if the tenant believes they will be charged for the extermination, what reassurance do I have that they will actually tell me they have bed bugs? What’s not to say that they don’t hide the issue (or try to self treat) because they don’t want to pay the exterminator’s fee?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Michelle,

      Perhaps you might want to include something in your lease that you conduct routine inspections every 3 months or every 6 months. You would look for bed bugs at that time.

  • No Nonsense Landlord

    In a multifamily, it is near impossible to determine who brought in the pests. It’s better to remove the tenants from the apartment in question altogether by terminating the lease, then address the issue at your own expense.

    It is generally a low-income problem, as low income habits bring them in. Try an exterminator first, a pesticide like Phantom is the way to go, not heat treatments.

    Here is what I have done.
    http://www.nononsenselandlord.com/2014/06/bedbugs-in-an-apartment/

    • Lucas Hall

      That’s a great tip! Thanks Eric!

    • Mary

      I cant believe you would recommend terminating the lease of tenants when bedbugs are found in a multiunit apartment. Sounds like a possible lawsuit as proving that they brought them in would be difficult. Second, I have worked in property management and bedbugs are not a low income problem. I have seen expensive apartment complexes and hotels for that matter have them. It is not treating them effectively that makes it an ongoing problem–usually not low-income residents but from landlords who do not maintain their properties.

    • CA

      I know this is a landlord blog, but this kind of cavalier attitude is exactly why landlords get sued. These things feed on blood, class has nothing to do with it. Even high-income people like me in a high-end apartment can get them. And this blog conveniently leaves out the fact that tenants can get them from OTHER tenants living next to, above/below them. A guy with a good income moved next to me. Despite living large like the rest of us this man was a hoarder who went all over the city dumpster diving and wound up with bed bugs. He was also a close pal of our landlord. Never mentioned anything about them; he just let them take over his place before they started spreading to everyone else’s units a year later. We complained to the property owner who right away accused the rest of us of “bringing” them in. He finally agreed to extermination which we were willing to help pay for. But he wouldn’t treat the hoarder next door. Common sense says you should have ALL the connected units inspected and treated since they’re all in the same building. He was fine with treating ours while completely ignoring his friend’s. We filed a joint suit, and when it was over the owner and his pal paid up. I could afford to pay for stuff I lost, but many aren’t in that situation. Even low-income folks shouldn’t be subjected to living with hundreds of parasitic bugs because other tenants in the same building kick-started the infestation.

    • Beautii

      A low income problem?You sound very ignorant as if bed bugs is just a low income problem!!! I live in a high rise in an upscale area and we’re experiencing a bed bug infestation

    • earl smith

      new renter moving in across from me and after moving in saw her throw a small matress in the dumpster. a few weeks later I had bites all over me as my chair next to my front door had bugs all in it and threw it out and then got bites from my bedroom bed ust few night ago. I never had bed bugs before but never lived in a apt before.

  • anita martinez

    My question is …
    Can I hold my rent till my landlord who is aware of the problem.
    Does something..All the unit’s in my complex are infested…And that landlord has been aware of this since I moved in what can I do?? I’ve already bought sprays powders..anything they sell ..bombs…I can’t afford to keep treating my unit if no other unit has been treated?? Not to mention I’ve got rid of Beds couches…and had to buy new ones only to have them infested again

  • Laura Agadoni

    Hi Anita,

    It’s always risky to withhold rent. You could be evicted. If the landlord knew about the problem before you moved in, you can hire an exterminator and deduct that cost from your rent. If treating your place doesn’t work because the bugs keep coming from the other units, you might be able to break your lease under the warranty of habitability doctrine. Maybe if it comes to that, the landlord might fix the problem. Good luck!

  • hak

    Just moved into a rental property, the leasing manager information package about bedbugs. On the same day i moved in I bought a brand new mattress and bed sheets. I couldn’t sleep at night because of itching. In the morning I saw what looked like bedbugs, I captured a couple of them and ran to the leasing office and showed them what i found. I have not heard back from them yet. can I break my lease? i have never experienced this before!
    Hak

  • Laura Agadoni

    Hi Hak,

    Please see No. 3 in the above article and take it from there. The landlord needs to address this issue. Good luck!

  • lisa lewis

    my landlord sent a typed letter taped to my door stating that they are terminating the lease due to bed bugs this is hug two level complex (300 apartments) building r approxiately 24 apartments every person that had the exterminator come out to treat has been told that they have 60 days leave the units so they can be treated. and that we can not rent from other owned properties. i had one treatment which the landlord has paid for and i dont have anymore problems but yet i am told because i had a problem i with other tenants have to leave i want to withhold my rent as my income is fixed and i cant afford to continue to pay rent in one place and the moving expense along with 1st month/sec dep. if i go to court will the judge let me stay

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lisa

      While I have no idea how a judge would rule, it does seem odd that they are trying to kick you out. The only time that I think they could terminate your lease is if the pest problem was so severe that they needed to condemn the whole building. But as long as the building is “inhabitable” then they usually can’t just terminate it.

      If you refuse to leave, they will have to take you to eviction court where you’ll get to speak your side. But if you lose, you’ll have an eviction record. So please consult with an attorney before making a decision – which I am not.

  • Cheng

    My last tenant brought the bad bug into my rental condo unit and i have hired the licensed exterminator for treatment in past august even though during the inspection, no bug and bug eggs have been found inside the unit.

    Now someone with two kids wants to rent that condo unit. she agrees that if the bedbug come back she will not sue the landlord but let the landlord hire the exterminator. Does this agreement added in lease will protect the landlord from being sued?

  • Laura Agadoni

    Hi Cheng,
    I’m not an attorney, so I can’t give advice on whether you’ll be sued or not. But generally, as long as you act to get rid of a bed bug problem, you’ve done your part. It sounds like you are doing all you can do. I hope those bugs stay away!

  • Freakingout

    We moved in almost 5 months ago. Our roommate started to show bites all over his body about 1 month ago. We notified our landlord by phone that we were having issues and were having a free inspection done. She seemed fine and wanted to know the results.
    The night after the inspection we notified her of his findings. One adult bedbug in our roommates room. No eggs, sheds, non-adults, markings on the mattress, or dead bugs. The Terminex inspector said that in his opinion the bugs were infesting another unit and traveling into ours, but he would have to inspect the others to be sure. She now blames us and wants our whole security deposit to treat. She is unwilling to inspect other units at all, claiming that no one else ever reported anything.

  • ken morris

    my question is this l rented a single unit home it is on a 5 acres and i live next door. previous renters moved 10 /14 home was empty till 1/15. before percent renters moved in i was in home several times doing repairs like pulled up carpet replaced floor and put same carpet back. new renters moved in 1/15 on 9/29 /15 renters came over and informed us they were moving and home was infested with bed bugs then started telling us how to get rid of them. they moved next day. never said a word to us about it as i said we live next door what recourse do i have if any for them to pay for exterminating the home

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Ken,

      I’m not clear whether your tenants moved out permanently or just moved out until the bed bug problem is over.

      If your tenants have a lease, they can’t just break the lease without giving you a chance to remedy the situation. If they are on a month-to-month, they need to give you notice. How much notice depends on your jurisdiction.

      Regarding paying for the bed bugs, check your state law on this. If your state has no law, you probably need to prove they brought in the bed bugs to be able to make them pay.

  • Charles Clayton

    No matter who is responsible for the bug’s emergence, what matter is the health of all living in your apartment. We can use affordable home remedies for bed bug control or other pest extermination.

  • Mani

    Hi Laura:

    I moved to this apartment 5 months before, & on the very first 1-3 weeks time, I noticed a small bed bug in my master bedroom. At tat time, I was nt mindful about the bigger problem. Recently, I found some bed bugs on my new mattress that was purchased 2 months ago. I immediately informed my rental mgmt, & they inspected the house, & confirmed it is a bedbug. They want to treat it, and are asking me to pay $675 for the treatment, and the pest controller will provide 3 months warranty. My question to you is, I have 7 more months for my lease to end. Since, the warranty is limited, I do not want to take a risk again. Is it possible I pay $675 for treatment, & terminate my lease under inhabitable doctrine?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Mani,

      The bed bug issue varies between the states. In your case, you might wish to contact a local attorney who specializes in landlord/tenant issues. It’s too bad you didn’t realize you had bed bugs until several months passed because the longer you wait to treat the problem, the more difficult it is to get rid of them. Regarding terminating your lease: It’s highly doubtful that you can terminate it based on what might happen in the future. Some companies offer a one-year warranty, an option you might want to discuss with the property manager. Good luck getting rid of them for good!

  • charmon Henderson

    My renters have been in a single unit home for well over a year and have discovered that they have bed bugs and I have paid for the inspection and yes it is bed bugs but I don’t have a lease for them and their is no pest control that is in a verbal agreement I guess it is what you call a month to month lease but they want me to pay for treatment and they are the ones who brought them in help who is responsible in the state of Georgia

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Charmon,
      This is a tough one. In order for you to force the tenant to pay, you need to prove the tenant brought them in. Did they admit to bringing them in? If so, then you can make them pay. If they didn’t admit to it, find out whether it was likely they brought them in, such as if the tenant just returned from a trip or brought in furniture from a garage sale. If they did either of those, you might have a case. Keep in mind that the longer you wait to treat the problem, the worse it gets.

  • LandlordNYC

    My tenant was notified that the condo unit above has a bedbug infestation. The building paid for a K9 inspection of adjacent units and found positive hits for bedbugs in my apartment. No other adjacent apartments were found to have a bedbug issue.

    The management company is hitting me with the bill ($3000). Am I supposed to pay for this? The infestation crossed the walls/floors to my unit.

  • Donna

    I own one single family home that is rented. It has never had bedbugs. A new family moved in a few months ago, they brought in some furniture they acquired used and now they have bedbugs.
    I called an exterminator, they gave instructions for de-cluttering and what not to do that would cause them to spread. They did many of these things anyway and have not decluttered.
    Can I legally evict them? My state has no bedbug laws

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Donna,
      Before you evict, you’ll need to check with an attorney. In my opinion, I would say that you can’t evict on that reason alone. Although your suspicions are likely correct — that this new tenant brought in the bed bugs — you can’t prove that with 100% certainty. You can hire an exterminator, though, and since it’s likely the tenant brought in the bed bugs, you can charge the tenant for the exterminator services. If the tenant is still not taking the measures needed to get rid of and keep the bed bugs away after the exterminator comes in, ask your attorney if you can issue a comply or vacate notice in this case. Good luck!

  • Demetriew

    I moved N 2 my 2 bed apt in jun. NJuly I noticed my kids were always scratching uncontrollably but mosquitoes r pretty bad out here n TX so I didnt think anything of it. Stupid me. I dont always have my kids due 2 the fact that they stay with there mom a lot. Well here n Nov one night I went n2 there room pretty late while they were sleep & I saw the kids scratchin N there sleep and bedbugs on the wall and in the their bunk bed. I contacted the office the next day & they told me it would be a while before they could get someone so I got stuff from home Depot. I removed everything, vacuumed everywhere and throw out the mattress. The guy came 2 days ago & did the job. Now kids r back N room & BUGS r back. Gross. Now what? I want to move

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Demetriew,
      You are not stupid! Not everyone thinks of bed bugs right away. When you found out, you took action, and that’s what counts. You can certainly talk with your landlord or management co. about moving, but I don’t think they have to let you out of your lease at this point. Bed bugs often come back. Let them treat again. Hopefully, that will get rid of the bugs. If not, tell them again you want to move. They might let you out of your lease. Or you might need to pay extra to break the lease. You could always seek legal assistance as well.

      • Demetriew

        Thank you for responding unfortunately it looks like there is a long road ahead for my family and I. I asked management if they would treat the other units as well and the exterminator said it’s impossible for bed bugs to spread unit to unit. At that point that’s when I knew all hope was lost I’ve never heard an exterminator say that before. He sounded very arrogant and overconfident. Today I spoke with the office and they said it takes time before the bed bugs go away after the treatment so they would not call the exterminator back out.

        • Laura Agadoni

          Usually exterminators come out 2 weeks after the first treatment. And they might have to come out again after that. But if you aren’t noticing any improvement, you probably need an alternative method of getting rid of them. You could do this on your own and pay for it if you aren’t satisfied with what your management co. is doing.

          The reasons bed bugs remain are usually because not all infested areas were treated, the method used didn’t work, or bed bugs were reintroduced.

          And bed bugs can travel from apartment to apartment.

          I hope you get everything worked out soon!

      • Jose

        I do live in a low income housing!now the problem just exsist.I’ve have checked up and down on the internet and waiting for housing authority to call.even though they just started and I’m not getting any answers and the landlord is not blaming me.what I don’t understand is if one apartment unit is affected regardless of how or who bring them,why should we still dwell amongst these creatures.shouldn’t the landlord take all the tenates out and place them somewhere until this problem is solved?like I said I checked everywhere to find out why only one unit gets treated and not all especially if the landlord is doing her part but is still having infestation and reports.all it’s telling me that the landlord can do one unit and not all!

  • Demetriew

    Thankd for the info. We appreciate it.

  • Olivia Sherwin

    These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to call an exterminator to diagnose the problem when a tenant reports bed bug problems. I’ve been managing my rental property for a some time now, but I’ve never come across this problem. I’ll definitely be sure to keep calm and call an exterminator first to see if the problem is bed bugs or not. Thanks for the great post! http://www.allstatepest.com.au

  • new at this

    Have a tentant who didnt want to wait for me to clean property and signed agreements stating she took sole responsibility of clean house up knowing there was bed bugs. Now she is refusing to pay rent..please someone tell me who is to take care of bed bug problems now

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi new at this,

      Your tenant needs to pay the rent. If she doesn’t, you can start the eviction process. If she signed a contract stating that she would clean up the house, but the bed bug problem is not being taken care of (clean house up doesn’t specifically mention bed bugs), you need to get rid of the bed bugs. But your tenant cannot live there rent free!

  • Park

    Hi Laura,

    I am a tenant of a multi-unit apartment built in 1972-lived in the unit over 7 years and never had any pest issue until November 2015. On our floor there was a hoarder living on the other side of the apartment. End of Summer- she was moved to the first floor and her unit was being treating extensively for days. Moving forward to November- my husband and I come back from a trip and were bitten multiple times on the first night- thinking that it was a mosquito issue, jet lagged and anxious, we de-cluttered our unit and proactively cleaned throroughly. The bites stopped for a couple of days and then started again (minor) without a professional inspector they want to remove the carpet flooring.. isn’t a PMP inspection the first step

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Park,

      I’m sorry to hear about this problem for you. You’re right in that hiring a PMP is usually the best way to treat bed bugs. But there is no law that states owners need to follow a certain procedure. It is possible to eradicate bed bugs w/o using a professional. If you don’t want to remove the carpet, speak with the manager and see whether you can work something else out. Another option, if you don’t want to go through their DIY method, is to see if you can hire someone on your own. But you’d likely have to pay for that. If they try on their own and are unsuccessful, they most likely will need to hire a professional, though. Good luck!

  • Phil

    Just was approved by Building for an apartment. I asked if they had ever had any problems with mice or bed bugs. They were honest, said they had a problem with bed bugs about 3 years ago (added it was on 2nd floor on other side of building from where I’d be renting.) The building is 3 floors with 22 units. The apartment I’d be moving into is currently getting brand new kitchen, carpet and I believe bathroom as well. So bed bugs freak me out. I’ve never had them but have read enough in the papers about the horrors of having them. I’m a little hesitant. It was 3 years ago. They say they haven’t had problem since. If I move in and wake with bites a week or so later can I get out of lease? Should I not even risk moving in? What would you do?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Phil,
      I can’t tell you what to do! :) It sounds as if you’ve found a great place, though. The management sounds as if they are forthcoming, and you’re getting a lot of new stuff. You probably won’t have bed bugs, but if you do find you have them, you need to let the management know ASAP and let them try to rectify the problem before just breaking your lease.

  • Dontashia

    Hello, I moved in my apartments of October of 2014. They are low income based apartments…. I seen a bed bug like a month later. My apartments came & did the chemical treatment. I seen two more afterwards & I spoke directly to the property manager & she told me that I brought them there because supposedly no one else has reported bed bugs in the building, but yet I have no furniture in my apt.. So she agreed to do one more treatment & said if I had any more bed bug problems , I would have to pay or get terminated. So I didn’t see anymore but I transferred to a diff unit in December of 2015. I just seen one recently here but the tenant b4 me said she had them & downstairs did too last year. Do u think my apartments will exterminate again ?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Dontashia,
      If you have bed bugs, you need to report that to your apartment manager. Then they need to take steps to get rid of them. You have a right to live in a bug-free dwelling under the law under the implied warranty of habitability. This is discussed in the post. If management refuses to treat the bed bug problem and if you’re on public assistance, contact the Housing Authority. If you are not on public assistance, find legal services in your area that help low-income people.

  • Confused&Disgusted

    I moved into a place in October and after a few weeks I noticed one of my children had a bite on his foot. Stupid me figured it was fleas or mosquito bites considering we had a very warm fall and there was still some mosquitoes out. A few weeks later the kids were getting bit more and I had went into the vacant apartment next door to clean (as the landlord had asked) and noticed a bunch of dead bed bugs in the bathtub. I called him and spoke with him about the bugs and he informed me that the people that had lived here were infested. After weeks I had to pay for the exterminator because he claimed he couldn’t. Can I sue him for the mattresses and furniture I had to replace. He moved us in without notifying us about the prior issue.

  • Laura Agadoni

    Hi Confused,
    If the bed bugs were there when you moved in, the landlord needs to pay for the exterminator. You can write the landlord a letter that itemizes your costs and let them know you will deduct the extermination cost from your rent. Check with an attorney to make sure you’re within your rights. You can sue the landlord for damages (your mattress and furniture).

    • Confused&disgusted

      He did have someone come exterminate. I paid but used what would be my rentime for the month. I had to throw away mattresses and am now afraid to bring my couch when I do move. I will consult with my attorney and see what the monetary amount I can sue for is.

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