While bed bugs can strike anywhere, they are especially common in multi-unit complexes, such as condos and apartment buildings. This can often complicate the extermination process, since it involves a landlord and their tenants. Depending on your local laws, your landlord could be responsible for the cost of extermination. But how can you know if you’re covered? What if your landlord refuses to pay, or threatens to evict if you don’t treat the infestation on your dollar? We’ve heard it all over the years, and would like to do our best to clear up some confusion in the matter.
Legal Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Anything you read on this blog, including this post, has a potential to be inaccurate depending on your local laws or the details of your personal situation. We hold no responsibility for the consequences of what you do based on what you read here.
Does My Landlord Have to Pay?
In some instances, a landlord may be obligated by law to pay some or all of the costs to get rid of bed bugs in your unit. This will vary quite a bit, depending on your state and local laws:
- Many states require landlords to pay if the tenant can prove that the bed bugs were there before they moved in. This is usually done by photographs or statements signed by the landlord during the initial walk-through, before the tenant-to-be signed the lease.
- If your lease explicitly states that the landlord is responsible for bed bug extermination costs (or general extermination costs), state law generally favors the lease’s wording. Always read your lease carefully before signing, and always keep a copy of it for situations like this.
- If multiple units in a complex are found to be infested, the landlord is more likely to be held liable for the costs.
- A select few localities, such as Florida and New York City, require the landlord to exterminate bed bugs. However, most laws only consider rodents and vermin to be pests that landlords are responsible for treating.
To address a common misunderstanding: bed bugs are generally not considered by law to make a dwelling unsafe for occupancy. This means that tenant protection laws related to health and sanitation probably won’t apply to a bed bug infestation. Again, it’s very important that you read up on your state and local laws, as the statutes regarding bed bugs vary from place to place.
What if My Landlord is Responsible?
If, for any reason stated above, your landlord is responsible for the cost and action, great! That can be quite the financial burden lifted off of your shoulders. However, keep in mind that you have some responsibilities of your own.
In just about every rental law regarding pest control, the tenant has a duty to cooperate with the treatment process. That can mean multiple inspections and visits by an exterminator (sometimes on short notice), and even a short-term evacuation of the unit. If the tenant refuses to comply to reasonable circumstances, the landlord may no longer be held liable for the treatment.
Can My Landlord Evict Me?
Many tenants have been served eviction notices and warnings in response to their bed bug problems. A landlord cannot usually evict on the grounds of an infestation, unless they can prove that the tenant introduced the bed bugs to the complex. However, there may be an amendment in your lease that grants your landlord the right to evict in certain cases. Consult your lease carefully, then check your state and local laws to see if the lease is legal. A real estate lawyer can help with this.
If you are threatened with eviction, your best bet would be to contact your local health and housing departments, informing them of the situation and seeing what they have to say. These officials will be the most educated on what local laws apply to your case, and can help you find and complete any appropriate paperwork.
Your next step should be to seek legal advice. A lawyer can tell you whether or not to move, withhold rent, file a complaint (and where), or press charges.