Bed bugs are generally introduced to rental properties on the belongings of tenants and visitors. Once inside they can quickly spread throughout a multi-unit building, infesting multiple units. The nature of multi-unit housing complexes makes it difficult for pest control experts to completely eliminate a bed bug infestation.
Naturally, renters should want to be informed about the bed bug history of a property before they sign any rental agreements. Bed bug disclosures are slowly becoming commonplace, and many states have passed legislation requiring landlords to disclose the bed bug history of any property they’re offering for rent.
Ultimately, however, it is important for tenants to understand their rights as renters and the landlord’s responsibilities as a property owner.
Bed Bug Disclosure Laws
Laws regarding rental properties vary from state to state, so you should always check with your local legislature to find out what your rights are as a renter.
Currently 23 states have specific bed bug related laws governing landlords and their tenants. Chief among them is the requirement that landlords disclose a property’s bed bug history to all prospective tenants. Additional legislation prevents landlords and property owners from knowingly renting a unit with an active infestation.
The purpose of these laws is twofold. First, they are meant to protect renters from unscrupulous landlords. Second, they are designed to help mitigate the spread of bed bugs throughout communities.
At the most basic level it is the landlord’s responsibility to provide a safe and habitable building for their tenants. This extends to pest control. In the majority of states it is the landlord’s responsibility to deal with pest that are not introduced by the tenant themselves. Pest infestations that are the result of a tenant’s actions are typically the responsibility of the renter to resolve.
Beyond basic disclosure of bed bug histories states that have adopted bed bug specific legislation often also require landlords and property owners to adhere to the following rules:
- Provide Tenants with Basic Bed Bug Information – This covers disclosure as well as information on the signs of bed bug infestations and how to prevent them.
- Instruct Tenants on How and When to Report Possible Infestations – Depending on local legislation landlords may be required to provide tenants with specific guidelines on where and when to report suspected bed bug infestations.
- Investigate Bed Bug Reports – Some states require landlords and property owners to investigate bed bug reports within a set time frame. Typically, they are given 24 to 48 hours after a complaint to follow through with an inspection.
- Hire Qualified Bed Bug Inspection and Removal Services – States can not dictate what pest control service is used to address any infestation. However, bed bugs are not a do-it-yourself problem. Landlords should be expected to hire qualified pest control services and to notify all tenants prior to any inspections or treatments.
- Notify Tenants of Bed Bug Infestations – Finally, some states require landlords to provide tenants with a written report of any bed bug inspections. Where there is no state or local law tenants still have the right to request an oral or written summary of any bed bug inspections.
Your Rights as a Tenant
If a landlord fails to disclose bed bug histories or other information as required by law, or when asked about the property’s history, the tenant has a few options. It is important to understand, however, that these rights are not necessarily recognized by all states. Again, it is important to research your own state’s standing on renter’s rights.
- Breaking the Lease – Some bed bug laws state that tenants may break an active lease when it is discovered that the landlord has failed to make the relevant bed bug disclosures. This varies according to state and local municipalities. Where there is no legislation specific to bed bugs tenants may find it prudent to contact an attorney specializing in landlord-tenant relations to pursue other actions.
- Withholding Rent – State laws can be strict regarding withholding rent due to a landlord. Some states do allow renters to withhold rent or deduct rent when the tenant makes significant repairs to the property. If you are unsure where you stand vis-vis your state’s rental laws contact an attorney before refusing to pay rent.
- Suing the Landlord – This as obviously a last resort. But in the event that a bed bug problem recurs in a building with a history of infestations, or a landlord fails to address complaints of pest control issues at a property, a tenant may sue to recover costs of damaged possessions, relocation, and even mental anguish. However, proving your case in court may be costly and time consuming. Suing is a viable response to failed property management but it should only be considered in extreme circumstances.
Keep in mind all of the above remedies are dependent on what is allowable under local laws. Before pursuing any of these solutions try to work with your landlord to resolve the issue. Failing that contact a local landlord-tenant attorney for advice and counsel.
Multi-unit housing is highly vulnerable to bed bug infestations, with pests often spreading throughout the building to infest the homes of multiple tenants. If you suspect your building has a bed bug problem contact your landlord or property manager at your earliest convenience.
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