Who Pays for the Bed Bugs in Apartment Buildings?

Bed bugs are among the greatest fears for anyone, tenant or landlord alike.

These creatures attach themselves to your clothing or other fabric items and hitch a ride to your destination. From there, an infestation can begin. 

Bed bug infestations can ravage more than just the unit these pests first entered. Once inside a building, bed bugs lay their eggs and spread throughout the entire apartment. 

Once they spread through a building, it can be next to impossible to determine who brought these pests into the building in the first place.

That begs the question—who pays for bed bug extermination in apartment buildings?

Determining How the Bed Bugs Got Into the Building

Most states have regulations in place that put the responsibility of an infestation on the landlord. 

That’s because these states require the building owner to provide a liveable environment.

In New Jersey, for example, regulators call apartment liveability the “implied warranty of habitability.” Almost all states have regulations similar to that. 

Most state regulators have determined that bed bugs are a pest that makes an apartment unlivable. That means your landlord must pay for the removal of these pests. 

But if a neighbor recently introduced bed bugs into your building, your landlord might have to force payment from the tenant who introduced the pests into the building. 

So, as an example, let’s say a new tenant moved into your building two months ago. Before they moved in, you and your neighbors never noticed any signs of bed bugs. 

But after two months of their residency, either they notice bed bugs in their unit, or one of their neighbors notices the bugs in their unit.

When an event like this occurs, the landlord can recoup some of the costs for extermination from the responsible tenant.

They can do this because the infestation was caused by a tenant’s negligence. 

By moving into a new unit without properly verifying the cleanliness of their possessions, the tenants damaged the building.

So, unless the bed bugs were brought into the building due to the negligence of a tenant, the responsibility for paying for the extermination lies with the landlord. 

They can only recoup their costs if they can determine a tenant brought in bed bugs due to a negligent action, like transporting bed bug-infested fabric items into a new apartment. 

Bed Bug Responsibility 

Exterminators and building owners classify bed bugs as “pests.” Pests are bugs, rodents, or micro-organisms that cause significant harm to people or their material goods. 

Bed bugs can cause rashes and other skin conditions, as well as ruining your fabric items. 

When it comes to dealing with bed bugs, both the tenant and landlord have responsibilities.

Let’s go through who’s responsible for certain tasks when a bed bug infestation becomes noticeable.

Tenant Responsibilities 

The tenant’s responsibilities for the upkeep of the apartment are usually listed in the by-laws on the lease.

There will be a list of what you can and can’t do in the apartment, such as owning pets. In that list, there’s usually a section dedicated to pests.

The primary responsibility of the tenant is to not bring any new pests into the apartment.

As long as you keep your apartment free of clutter, mess, and food waste, the chances of bringing pests into your home are low. 

Remember to clean your outdoor pets often, as they can track pests into your home as well. 

As stated above, bed bugs often enter homes by attaching themselves to clothing or fabric in an infected home and then detach once they enter a new home. 

This counts as bringing pests into your home and can make you liable for their extermination. 

The other main responsibility of the tenant is to give the landlord notice of any pests as soon as you notice them.

If you knew about a pest problem in your building, and you allowed it to get out of control, you may be liable for the extermination costs.

So, always read and follow the by-laws in your lease. As a tenant, you will always be in the legal right if you follow those instructions. 

When it comes to bed bugs and other pests, the by-laws will tell you to keep your apartment clean and report any pests to the landlord right away. 

By doing so, the tenant can ensure faster extermination, one which they won’t have to pay for.

Landlord Responsibilities 

In general, the landlord is responsible for ensuring that their building is liveable. 

That means making any necessary repairs or hiring a professional to sort out any difficult jobs. Exterminating bed bugs fall into the latter category. 

Once a tenant reports an issue with the building, the landlord must organize times to check the tenant’s apartment and any surrounding units. 

If the landlord finds a pest, they must take action to remove the bugs.

For smaller issues, the landlord may try to do the project themselves, but bed bugs need to be treated by a professional crew. 

So it’s up to the landlord to hire professional exterminators to get rid of the infestation.

They are also responsible for letting any other affected units know that they need exterminators too. 

All the costs will be covered by the landlord unless they can determine that the infestation was caused by negligence. 

What to Do if Your Landlord Refuses to Exterminate Bed Bugs

Although not exterminating bed bugs in a building may sound counter-intuitive, it happens more often than you think. 

A landlord who believes a tenant brought in bed bugs may refuse to pay, or a particularly cheap landlord may refuse outright.

In these cases, you don’t have many options, but here are your best three. 

Your first option is to move out early. Moving out early will break the conditions of the lease, but your landlord most likely has as well.

By refusing to exterminate pests, your landlord has voided the implied warranty of habitability. 

Since the landlord technically broke the conditions of the lease first, you can move out without having to pay the remainder of the lease.

Your second option is to withhold rent. Withholding rent can be a more tiresome activity because you remain in the apartment while not paying for it. 

By doing this, you’re encouraging the landlord to fix the problem. Once the problem gets fixed, the tenant will pay their back rent to the landlord. 

Sometimes the landlord will continue to refuse to exterminate the bed bugs. If that’s the case, your best option is to either move out or hire the exterminators yourself. 

Hiring exterminators should be one of the last things you try.

When you hire the exterminators, you’ll have to pay for them yourself. After you pay them, you can take the cost of their service off your next rent payment. 

Your landlord may attempt to recuperate their money, but you should have proof they refused to uphold the warranty of habitability.

If you plan on using any of these methods to encourage your landlord to deal with a pest infestation, always refer to your local housing or rental board. 

They will have the most up-to-date information about tenancy disputes in your area. If issues continue with your landlord, hiring an attorney may be in your best interests. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions I get asked about bed bugs and who’s responsible for their clean-up.

What’s the Most Noticeable Sign of Bed Bugs?  

There are two noticeable signs of a bed bug infestation—rashes and rust-colored spots on fabric items. Bed bugs feed on people while they sleep. 

Each of the little bites can cause a rash. The rash will be red, raised, and irritating. 

Sometime before the rash appears, you may notice rust-colored spots on your mattress. If you notice these, you most likely have bed bugs. 

Since bed bugs feed on blood, their waste is a rust color. If you see rust-colored stains, look for other signs of an infestation, like the bugs themselves hidden in fabric folds. 

Are Bed Bugs Harmful to Our Health?

Although these creatures are a massive nuisance, they don’t transmit any infections to people. 

Unlike ticks, which may spread Lyme disease, we have no evidence bed bugs spread any pathogens. Their bites may cause an allergic reaction, but this is rare. 

How Can I Prevent Bed Bugs?

The best bed bug prevention methods are:

  • Declutter your home and vacuum often
  • Seal all cracks, especially on shared walls
  • Be wary of new items you bring to your home
  • Never take a mattress or sofa from the street
  • Check around your home for the presence of bed bugs regularly
  • When you return from a trip, look through your belongings before entering your home

Wrapping Up

So, who pays for a bed bug infestation in apartments? In almost all cases, the financial liability falls on the landlord.

That’s because they have failed to maintain the building as habitable and must pay to regain that status.

The only time a landlord doesn’t have to pay is when they can prove negligence on the part of one or more tenants.

If they can prove the tenant brought in the bed bugs or the tenant failed to notify the landlord quickly, the tenant could become liable for the extermination costs.

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