The unpleasantness of a typical rodent or insect extermination is largely the fee charged by the exterminator. But with bed bugs, this fee is just one piece of a greater nightmare. Because bed bugs are adept at hiding almost anywhere, an alarming quantity of possessions, from curtains to books and picture frames, must be discarded or quarantined. Other victims have had to throw away their books unless they were willing to inspect each one, page by page. Some possessions may be salvaged if they are sealed in special casing long enough for the bed bugs to die, which can takes many months. During this time, residents may be forced to move to temporary housing elsewhere. Lest you think this is not your problem, consider the 2013 Annapolis case that awarded an elderly tenant over $600K in punitive damages against her landlord--who failed to disclose an infestation prior to her moving in. Also, a bedbug infestation definitely comes under the requirements related to warranty of habitability concerns--regardless of whose "fault" it may have been, and, as most landlords already know, the courts universally rule that it's almost always our fault!
Having mitigation measures in place is key to keeping your residential rental units bedbug free!
Awareness and prevention
- Check out the available history of any property prior to purchasing as a rental investment. One resource is the National Bedbug Registry Website
- Review and download available public awareness materials, such as doorhangers and information brochures from EPA's Bed Bug Resources Page
- Research and determine which licensed pest control specialist to use BEFORE they're needed: consider paying for their inspection, pre-treatments, and a clearance letter as proof of non-infestation prior to relisting a vacant unit.
- When you hire a licensed home inspector for your rental inspection, add a requirement to specifically inspect for signs of bed bug infestation.
- Consider installing washer and dryer connections to make it easier for tenants to do laundry at home (instead of laundromats or a relative or friend's house).
- Have a reviewed clause in the lease agreement that specifically addresses bed bug contingencies--responsibilities, etc. Don't make it lopsided! If the tenant is afraid to report, it's only going to make any bed bug problem tremendously worse! Also consider that if a neighboring property in turn gets infested, it's highly likely that the landlord of the originally affected property will be culpable for remediation, damages, etc.
- Make sure acknowledgement and receipt of awareness and prevention materials is part of your lease agreement. This clause should also include reminders not to bring in discarded furniture, inspect all second-hand items purchased at yard sales and thrift stores, etc.
- Periodically inspect your unit! Compel tenants to address conditions that make a pest infestation more likely and make sure that other hosts, such as pegions or other birds and bats are not nesting in the attic (there are some types of bed bugs that prefer these hosts but will opportunistically settle for your tenants).
- Keep a can of bug repellant (with DEET in it) in the vehicle you take to the units. If you suspect there may be a problem, apply the spray as directed prior to going inside. Consider wearing light colored clothes that will make any "hitchikers" easier to spot on your way out.
- Take all complaints seriously! Do not wait for proof to take action because the longer you wait, the worse it will get.
- Call your selected pest control specialist and get them out there as soon as possible. Go with them to the appointment if you can manage it, and be sure to take lots of photos of the unit at the time of the initial response. If bed bugs are confirmed, confer with the exterminator and tenant on the best way to eliminate the pests and then follow through with all measures.
- Document, photograph, and file...everything related to the infestation.
- When completed, get a clearance letter from the exterminator and send a copy of it, along with a letter of your own, to the tenant via certified mail. Keep proof of this mailing. This will be critical if a reinfestation occurs or is discovered post vacancy (not to mention delisting the property if it made it to the national registry).
- Once the unit is vacated, throughly clean it and have a inspection and clearance letter issued by your exterminator. Attach a copy of this clearance letter to the next tenant's lease and get them to date and initial it, along with the other leasing paperwork. Again, make sure they received the information/awareness materials and follow through with the other mitigation measures.
Don't let the bed bugs bite is a cute saying many parents tell their children at bedtime, so let's try to keep it that way and keep our rental units pest free!
The advice given here is, like other articles, not all-inclusive and is based solely upon our experience and publicly available information. We disclaim and shall be held harmless from any liability arising from any detrimental reliance placed in its content. We highly recommend getting your legal advice and leasing documentation reviews from a licensed attorney who is knowledgable in landlord-tenant laws.