Who’s Liable for Bedbug Infestations and Bacteria–You or Your Landlord?

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Who’s Liable for Bedbug Infestations and Bacteria–You or Your Landlord?

Daphne Mallory · Oct 3, 2011

Landlord-tenant laws for bedbug infestations vary from state to state, but in many cases, bedbug infestations can be an issue of landlord liability. Landlords are often, but not always, responsible for correcting bedbug problems in their apartments, especially if the space becomes uninhabitable. Not all states have experienced bedbug infestations, so laws in some states may not be comprehensive. If your state laws do not explicitly state who’s liable for bedbugs, check what other related rules affirm. Regardless of your state, when it comes to bedbug infestations and liability, here are the main factors to consider:

Habitability

Landlord-tenant laws in every state say that landlords must maintain “habitable” properties for tenants. If there’s no running water or if the heat shuts off in the winter, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix it, and usually quickly. Every state that has dealt with bedbugs infestations has ruled the problem a habitability issue. Bedbug bites can be incredibly itchy and uncomfortable; tenants should not be expected to live with such a constant irritation.

Bacteria Research

Doctors recently found evidence that bedbugs in poor inner city areas may carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria. An unusual number of staph infections have been discovered in recent times and doctors believe that bedbugs may be carriers of the disease. Attorneys are watching this issue closely because of the landlord liability component. Suing a landlord essentially for bug bites hasn’t proved to be very profitable, but if a direct link between bedbugs and staph infections is established, landlords that refuse to deal with bedbug infestations in a timely fashion could make themselves open to large liability lawsuits.

State Law Variations

Your best bet if you’re dealing with a bedbug infestation is to read your lease carefully and research the landlord-tenant laws for your state. For example, a tenant in Rhode Island is responsible for getting rid of bedbugs if their apartment is the only one in the building with an infestation. It becomes the landlord’s responsibility in Rhode Island if more than one apartment in the building has bedbugs. In other states, the size of the building can determine whether it’s the landlord’s responsibility. In other states, renters of smaller dwellings, such as duplexes, might be responsible for getting rid of the bedbugs themselves.

Tenant Options

If a landlord doesn’t deal with a bedbug infestation that covers multiple apartments, tenants have the right to break their lease and move without paying a penalty (Arkansas is the only exception). In some states, you can refuse to pay your rent until the issue is dealt with, but if a landlord is dragging his or her feet, you might be able to pay an exterminator and deduct the cost from your rent. It is important to note that if your neighbor has bedbugs and doesn’t fix the problem as well, you’ll soon have the bugs back in your apartment.

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