Help for Renters With Bed Bugs in Apartments and Other Rentals
If you are a renter, what happens and who is responsible if you have bed bugs in your apartment. What you need to do may be different depending on if you rent a house, a condo or an apartment. Your lease or rental agreement may include a section on bed bugs so go back and take a look to see if it does provide any information about bed bug infestations. One of the most important things is don’t start throwing everything out and moving things around. This can spread bed bugs around your house, condo, apartment or building.
That would not only extend your infestation but possibly spread bed bugs to other tenants, who in turn can spread them back to you in a year or so if they haven’t successfully gotten rid of them. You want to avoid your neighbors getting bed bugs because they may not take action quickly or at all. Your treatment will depend on whether you live in a separate “unattached” rental home or if you live in a condo or apartment. Your landlord may have rules specifically for dealing with insects or even more specifically for bed bugs.
Depending on your landlord or management company, your treatment options may vary.
You don’t want to sprinkle bed bugs around your house, condo, apartment or building.
That would not only extend your own infestation but possibly spread bed bugs to other tenants, who in turn can spread them back to you in a year or so if they haven’t successfully gotten rid of them.
Your treatment will depend on whether you live in a separate “unattached” rental home or if you live in a condo or apartment. Your landlord may have rules specifically for dealing with insects or even specifically for bed bugs.
Depending on your landlord or management company, your treatment options may vary.
This is another reason you want to be knowledgeable about treatment practices.
You will be able to ask questions that will help you to compare the treatment they will provide you with what you would expect from a pest company you would hire. Or you can seek treatment on your own and absorb the cost without mentioning it unless your rental agreement specifies that you must report it.
What if you are afraid to tell your landlord?
Many people are afraid they may be evicted if they report there are bed bugs in their home. Or they may be worried that other tenants will talk about them, or that they will be shunned. I wish I could reassure you that none of those things will happen, but I can’t. They might, but being informed will help you to get through it.
One new trend in lease and rental agreements are bed bug addendums. Extra rules about who will pay for treatment, who will pay for inspection and expectations for both renter and landlord. In most of these documents, failure to prepare for treatment according to the pest company’s protocols may make the renter subject to eviction.
Unless you intend to pay for an inspection and professional treatment yourself, tell your landlord.
It is really important that you document every phone call and conversation with your management company or landlord and the pest company.
In the bed bug group a woman, a renter, was just telling the story of a “guy” coming and spraying “something” then getting back into his unmarked white van and leaving.
That’s a worst-case scenario. She has no idea what was sprayed, if it will harm her pet, how long it will last or even if it is labeled for bed bugs. When landlords don’t understand the damage and cost of bed bugs to everyone involved, especially them, they make the problem worse. When ineffective pesticides are sprayed it expands and prolongs the infestation.
That is why it is so important that you understand the complexities of bed bug infestations. If your landlord is mismanaging the problem, you will recognize it. Hopefully, you will be able to discuss any problems with their response and help to educate them.
Your landlord or management company may already have a response plan in place. But it is also possible they don’t. And now like you, they might have to take the bed bug short course to know what to do about it. You both feel like victims, and you are.
You can ask your landlord if you could be part of the process when selecting a pest company. Explain you are eager to do whatever it takes to get rid of them, but you also want to feel confident the pest company has experience and success treating bed bugs. Offer to get several estimates.
Give them the “Questions for Pest Companies” from this handbook.
Ask if they will rent or buy a steamer you can use, and tell them you will start the preparation as soon as bed bugs are confirmed with an inspection.
You might even become an educator helping other neighbors to avoid or solve their bed bug infestations faster and safer.
Try and see it through your landlord’s point of view.
They didn’t cause the bed bugs. They have nothing to do with them. They didn’t even know you had bed bugs until you reported them. They know it’s going to cost them money and time. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect them to be anything other than disappointed and possibly annoyed at their inconvenience. As much as we wish we might get sympathy (you might) don’t expect it. Try to let them know you are ready to do whatever you can to help remediate the problem.
It’s in YOUR BEST INTEREST to try to get the management company or landlord to let you select the pest control company unless they have already said they will use heat treatment. That would be your best-case scenario for them to arrange heat treatment. You might even suggest it to them. It is statistically the fastest way to end an infestation and reduces the possibility of the tenant reinfesting the unit as long as they have followed all the protocols. This tells the landlord that heat treatment is the most cost-effective and reliable method for ending the infestation.
If you are eager for heat treatment and the landlord seems resistant, offer to split the cost if you are able to afford that. Doing your homework prior to this conversation means you already have an estimate of the cost.
But, if that doesn’t happen, volunteer to participate in an inspection. Ask them if they already have a contract with a pest control company. A landlord might not, but a property management company may have an existing company they work with. If this is the case, you probably can’t get them to change so your best bet is to make contact with the company and ask them the questions.
If you are uncomfortable with how they answer, you could bring it up with your property manager. You could ask them if they would consider another company for this job. You could decide to take care of and pay to fix the problem yourself.
You might discover that your neighbors have struggled with bed bugs and didn’t tell anyone out of fear. Remember, the odds of you getting bed bugs is lower when your neighbors don’t have bed bugs.
Does your rental agreement or lease mention bed bugs?
I have heard of landlords having a specific fee they may charge a tenant for bed bugs but it must be stated in the rental agreement or lease. Most landlords or property management companies are responsible for keeping their rental properties pest-free.
Before informing your landlord or property management company, you may want to contact your local renter’s rights organization to find out what you should expect of your landlord. Most recently I saw an addendum that puts the cost of treatment with the tenant and the approval of the pest company with the landlord. That helps to ensure a competent company is selected and not a budget short-term fix.
If your lease or contract says you must report any issues with pests, comply with your agreement. Document all dates and communications with your landlord or management company so you have a written record of all conversations.
Moving and leaving without mentioning bed bugs is unethical and only makes the problem worse for everybody, and you’ll probably take them with you.
Bed Bug Traps Work!
Order the white traps so you can see what they catch!
Will the landlord choose what kind of treatment we get?
They may already have a contract with a pest control company. Many landlords or property management companies do have pre-existing contracts with pest control and often provide pesticide treatment because they think it is cheaper than heat treatment. However having to provide repeated pesticide treatments while bed bugs possibly spread is also expensive. Maybe you can reason with them if they don’t choose heat treatment. I would ask and defend heat treatment if I were a renter.
Are bed bugs in adjoining apartment units?
Do others in your building have bed bugs. It’s not the type of thing people talk about. In fact renters will go to great lengths to not tell they have bed bugs out of fear of eviction or ostracized from neighbors. If you see things piled up in the trash area, that’s a RED FLAG!
Hopefully, you will be able to ask questions that will help you to compare the treatment they will provide you with what you would expect from a pest company you would hire. Or you can seek treatment on your own and absorb the cost without mentioning it unless your rental agreement specifies that you must report it. If it doesn’t mention having to report bed bugs you can probably just get treatment and pay for it yourself. What if you are afraid to tell your landlord? Many people are afraid they may be evicted if they report there are bed bugs in their home. Or they may be worried that other tenants will talk about them, or that they will be shunned. I wish I could reassure you that none of those things will happen, but I can’t. They might, but being informed will help you to get through it.
One new trend in lease and rental agreements are bed bug addendums. Extra rules about who will pay for treatment, how much time you have to report to the landlord that you suspect you have bed bugs. In most of these documents, failure to prepare for treatment according to the pest company’s protocols may make the renter subject to eviction. Unless you intend to pay for an inspection and professional treatment yourself, tell your landlord, but know the law for your county or state before you do.
Action you can take right now!
Order ClimbUp monitors for all beds that could be infested including cribs.
Read the section on treatment options as most of the preparation applies here.
- Isolate your bed Pull bed 6″ away from the wall. Make sure nothing is touching any wall.
- Launder your bedding Put clothes, bedding, and other items in the dryer for at least 60-120 minutes on HIGH heat. If you share a laundry room be very careful to empty the lint filter before and after you dry your things to prevent neighbors from bringing your bed bugs back to their apartments when they do laundry.Empty the lint filter before and after each cycle. Sometimes bed bugs get tossed into the front lint filter and survive in the dryer. That means they might come back with your laundry. Once you remove items from the dryer, seal them securely in new clean bags so bugs cannot get in.
- Vacuum daily. Remove the vacuum bag, place it into a plastic trash bag, seal tightly, and dispose of right away.
Steps you can take right away if you are a renter:
- Pull bed 6″ away from the wall. Make sure nothing is touching any wall.
- Put clothes, bedding, and other items in the dryer for at least 60-120 minutes on HIGH heat. Empty the lint filter before and after each cycle!! Sometimes bed bugs get tossed into the front lint filter and survive. That means they might come back with your heated bedding or worse, with a neighbors laundry infesting another tenant’s apartment. No one wants to cause that to happen.
- Once you remove items from the dryer, seal them securely in new clean bags so bugs cannot get in again.
- Vacuum daily. Remove vacuum bag or contents, place it into a plastic trash bag, seal tightly, and dispose of right away.
- Buy a bed bug proof mattress and/or box spring cover. This never comes off. If you can only afford one get the box spring covered but both are better. There’s no point spending money on a cheap mattress cover that won’t keep bed bugs in or out permanently.
- Caulk all cracks and crevices, along baseboards and around windows and door frames. If you can get a hold of a steamer before you do this even better. The more bed bugs you kill the fewer hungry babies being born.
- Steam, paint or seal your headboard/bed frame AND nightstand. Bed bugs can easily hide in screw heads and holes, seams and joints in furniture. Wear a paint mask when steaming as paint, stain, and finishes from baseboards or furniture may vaporize and you don’t want to breathe vaporized paint and who knows what.
- Eliminate clutter. Throw out old newspapers, magazines, recycling, paper, old notebooks, and cardboard boxes.
- Do not store any items under the bed. Vacuum daily.
- Continue to vacuum at least once a day disposing of the bag which bed bugs can crawl out of.
- Launder clothing and bedding regularly. Bedding should not touch the floor or walls ever.
- DON’T throw away your furniture or belongings. Treat all belongings as if they are infested. Put clean inspected or heated items in clear XXL zip-locks or clear plastic tubs sealed with duct tape. (just until your infestation is 100% gone)
- DON’T panic! Learn and declare yourself a bed bug avenger, a killer of bed bugs.
- If you can put ClimbUp® bed bug traps on your bed legs, you will catch anything trying to get on your bed.
- DON’T bug bomb, they don’t work. If they did everyone would use them and no one would have bed bugs.
- DO call your landlord. You can’t be evicted for having bed bugs or mice or fleas. You can be evicted for not complying with preparation or treatment.
- Ask if any neighbors have been dealing with bed bugs.
- Write down all dates, times and conversations you have with your landlord and pest company.
- Some landlords or management companies are adopting bed bug policies in their contracts and lease agreements.
More resources for renters
New York Tenants Bed Bug Advice and reference
Simple Ways to Avoid Bed Bugs During Moving and Storage (PDF) (New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)
2019 State bed bug laws and regulations for hotels and landlords.