For Landlords and Property Managers

Are landlords responsible for bed bugs

For almost any property owner or rental manager, bed bugs are two words we never want to hear, but unfortunately, they are a costly fact of modern (and ancient) life.

The first thing a renter who suspects they have bed bugs asks is are landlords responsible for bed bugs. 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. Renters who are afraid of eviction by reporting are going to have the worst infestations that may spread to other units, homes, theaters, restaurants, etc.

Understanding how not to spread bed bugs is critical to eradication.

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, or what to do, 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.

Inform your renters what to do and who to tell if they suspect bed bugs

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 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 they 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!  

End Infestations Quickly Before They Escalate

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.

  • Inspect promptly when bed bugs are reported.
  • A bed bug dog can inspect several units and help pinpoint the location of bed bugs saving you money in the long run.
  • Involve residents in the process. Their cooperation is vital to success. Explain and provide them with a handout on what to do, how to prepare and what not to do.
  • Be sure tenants understand the consequences of not cooperating with preparation and treatment, and put it in writing with their signature.
  • Inspect adjacent units for possible infestations.  (both sides, above and below)
  • Best practices include treating all adjacent units (both sides, above and below) since bed bugs often spread through inside wiring, walls, baseboards, cracks, and crevices.
  • Use the 30 Questions for Pest Control Companies section of this guide to help plan your bed bug eradication plan. 
  • Actively monitor and re-treat, infested units to ensure that all of the bed bugs have been killed.
  • An infested multi-story building should be treated from the top down.

Additional Resources for Landlords

EPA Guidelines 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)  

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) 

Protocols for the Prevention and Control of Bed Bugs in Multi-Unit Housing (PDF) (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Services) 

Frequently Asked Questions about Bed Bugs (PDF) (Massachusetts Department of Public Health) 

Don’t let the bed bugs bite (Michigan Bed Bug Working Group; available in several languages 

Bed Bug Guidance for Private Multi-family Housing (PDF) 

Guidance on Bed Bug Control in Public Housing (PDF)  Prevention and Safe Removal of Bed Bugs (attachment to Guidance on Bed Bug Control in Public Housing) (PDF) 

NPMA Guidelines: Response to Bed Bugs in Apartments (PDF) (

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