It’s safe to say that most people wouldn’t be happy living in a rental unit that’s infested with bed bugs. If the building has a history of bed bugs, it’s pretty unlikely that all of them have been completely annihilated.
Unfortunately, many tenants won’t even consider renting a unit that has had bed bugs before. For this reason, it’s essential that you know how to take care of the critters and what to disclose to your tenants.
Bed Bug Disclosure Laws
Most laws regarding rental units vary from state to state, so always make sure to check your local legislature. Some states have an explicit requirement for landlords to disclose the bed bug situation to existing and potential tenants. Currently, there are 23 states that have passed or enacted bed bug-specific legislation or rule-making. These states include:
Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Keep in mind that this means some states have no laws or rules regarding bed bugs and tenants in these states may have no way of knowing about an infestation. This is problematic because a lot of landlords will be tempted to say nothing and let the tenants move in without knowing. However, this is bound to cause issues in the future and you will definitely suffer the consequences.
What Tenants Can Do
If a tenant discovers that the building had or has a bed bug problem, there are a number of actions they can take. As a landlord, you should be prepared for tenants to do the following:
- Break the lease. Your tenant may vacate the unit without any responsibility for future rent payments. They may argue that you have committed fraud by not dealing with the bed bug situation and thereby undo the rental contract.
- Withhold rent. A tenant who finds out about bed bugs may choose to withhold rent until the issue is resolved.
- Sue for damages. In the event of a serious bed bug problem in the building, a tenant may take legal action and consult an attorney. A good lawyer may argue that the landlord has failed to disclose a potentially dangerous situation. The tenant may sue for lost or damaged property, moving costs, and emotional distress. Bed bugs can be a scary thing, and if the infestation is severe, it may even make your rental unit uninhabitable.
It is a landlord’s fundamental responsibility to provide tenants with a habitable home. Landlords are also responsible for dealing with pests that were not introduced by the tenant. If your tenant calls you in a panic, complaining about bed bugs in the building, there’s a chance that the problem isn’t bed bugs. You should contact a qualified exterminator and have them inspect the property. The exterminator should be able to identify the pest and figure out the cause.
If it’s the tenant’s fault, then it’s their responsibility to take care of the problem. However, if it’s a pre-existing issue or caused by the condition of the property, it’s your responsibility to act fast and get rid of the pests. In general, you should always do walk-throughs of your rental unit to make sure everything is up-to-code. Make sure you understand the proper procedures for maintenance and keeping pests out of your rental.