The first thing a renter who suspects they have bed bugs asks is are landlords responsible for bed bugs. For almost any property owner or rental manager, bed bugs are two words they never want to hear, but unfortunately, they are a fact of modern (and ancient) life. Make sure that you and your renters know what a bed bug is and what to do if they see or suspect them and that will go a long way to minimize your cost and time exterminating bed bugs.
The most common reason renters don’t tell their landlords about bed bugs is out of fear of how the landlord will react. Because they have never discussed what will happen the tenant fears the worst. The landlord is probably hoping because he doesn’t hear about bed bugs that they aren’t a problem. The problem is no one talks about it and it ends up costing the landlord more in the end because the infestation is so big. When tenants know what the landlord expects, requires and needs if bed bugs are suspected, they will report right away. Because the cost of paying for eradication is almost always going to be on the landlord (unless your lease agreement states otherwise), you want your renters to tell you as soon as bed bugs are suspected.
Use the link here to download flyers and educational materials for you, your staff and renters. Find out what local city, county or state regulations may also apply to landlords. There could be reporting requirements, response requirements, etc. Educate and train your staff on how to identify and inspect for bed bugs. Conducting detailed inspections when tenants move.
Your tenants have a legal right to fit and habitable housing, and that certainly doesn’t include bed bugs. Your tenant might be able to break their lease because of a bed bug problem, especially if they can prove the vermin were there before they moved in. They can also break the lease if they notified you of the problem and you did nothing, treat inadequately or don’t respond quickly enough.
If your tenant is already living in the unit and a bed bug problem arises, they need to give you proper notice, however it is better if you have already provided them documentation stating what proper notice is in regard to insects. How soon after they suspect they may have bed bugs do you want them to notify you? When they have multiple bites over a week. That would be when I would want to know as a landlord. That would be the beginning when you have a much better chance of eradicating quickly.
An aside is that many landlords, hotels and property managers go for heat treatment because it kills the bed bugs in one treatment. If tenants continue to have problems after heat treatment it either means they are re-infesting their own home or other connected units also have bed bugs and haven’t reported.
You should never knowingly rent property already infested with bed bugs. You could be sued if your tenant can prove you knew the unit had a bed bug problem. You might be ordered to pay damages if they go to court.
We have seen a lease addendum that details who is responsible for doing what and paying for a bed bug infestation. You may consider adding such an addendum to your own rental and lease agreements or contracts. You might also want to specify in your pre-move in inspection that the unit is free of bed bugs after you have inspected it of course or had a professional inspection.
If you already have a contract with a pest control company for your rental units it should be affordable or complimentary for them to conduct a quick inspection and give you a green light. Since the burden of proving renters brought the bed bugs home is on the landlord, getting that pre-inspection sign off could save you thousands of dollars if bed bugs do turn up.
Educate tenants before there is a problem.
- Provide guidelines for tenants on preventing bed bugs.
- Discourage tenants from bringing home free furniture or items on sidewalks.
- Provide a flyer or brochure to current and prospective tenants explaining your policies and guidance on bed bug management.
- Emphasize the importance of quick reporting of any bed bug sightings.
- Focus on remediation.
No one wants to have bed bugs or gets them intentionally. A culture of blame can cause residents to delay reporting which leads to more extensive infestations, which are far more expensive to control. When it comes to bed bugs time IS MONEY! ACT FAST!
Develop a plan, in advance, for treating a bed bug infestation. Make residents aware of how to react if they discover or suspect bed bugs.
Additional Resources for Landlords
Bed Bug Action Plans for Apartments (PDF) (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
Bed Bug Control in Multi-Unit Facilities (PDF) (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
What’s Working for Bed Bug Control in Multifamily Housing (PDF) (National Center for Healthy Housing)