Bed bug infestations cause significant distress to apartment tenants. This distress becomes worse when a landlord refuses to take appropriate action against the pests. Tenants should familiarise themselves with standard housing habitability laws, which often give tenants the right to take action against negligent landlords. Tenants should also be proactive about bed bugs, asking landlords and property managers about a history of infestation before signing a lease, and reporting suspected bed bugs to building maintenance workers directly.
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Bed bugs are tiny insects that live on blood. They are nocturnal creatures, often burrowing in beds then emerging to bite their sleeping victims. Bed bug bites can cause an itchy, uncomfortable rash, though there is no evidence that they spread blood-borne diseases, according to Mayo Clinic staff. A professional exterminator is often needed to eradicate an infestation; the exterminator should treat neighbouring rental units, perhaps even the whole building, as a bed bug colony may simply move from a freshly exterminated apartment into a more hospitable environment down the hall.
Landlords in almost all states must keep their rental properties "habitable." This means that, as a tenant, you have the right to live in a home that is safe. A vermin infestation makes your home uninhabitable, and it is your landlord's responsibility to address a bedbug problem. If your landlord does not respond to your requests, or does not take action to stop the infestation, your state's laws may give you several options. For example, you may be able to end your lease, withhold rent until the extermination of the bed bugs or pay for an exterminator yourself and deduct the cost from your rent.
Exceptions to Habitability Laws
Landlords may not be responsible for managing your bed bug problem if they can prove tenants caused the bed bug infestation, for example, by bringing the bugs in with mattresses or other furniture. Landlords may also be absolved of liability if you refuse to cooperate with efforts at exterminating your unit or the building. For example, if you will not let exterminators into your home or refuse to dispose of infested furniture, you may not be able to withhold rent or terminate your lease because your home is uninhabitable.
Special Bedbug Laws
Some areas, such as New York, now have laws dedicated to both the prevention of bed bug infestation and to notify tenants about the likelihood of bed bug infestation. These laws may require that people seal up mattresses in plastic before putting them in the trash. They may also require landlords to disclose previous bed bug infestations to prospective tenants.
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- MayoClinic.com: Bedbugs; September 2010
- CBS New York: Governor Paterson Signs Bedbug Disclosure Act; August 30, 2010
- Real Town: Bed Bugs and a Landlord's Rights and Responsibilities; Susie Lein; January 2009
- "New York Times"; Everything You Need to Know About Bedbugs But Were Afraid to Ask; Sewell Chan; October 15, 2006
- Metropolitan Council on Housing: Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite! Bedbugs in New York City Apartments
- Nolo: Renter's Rights to Minor Repairs