Can I Be Evicted for Complaining About Bed Bugs?

It doesn’t matter whether you live in a modern luxury apartment, a modest efficiency studio, or a historic building that’s centuries old.  Regardless of your living  accommodations, all apartments are potentially vulnerable to bed bug infestations.  But how should your landlord handle the issue?  Is it possible to be evicted just for complaining about bed bugs in your unit?  What sort of legal rights do tenants have in this scenario?  In this blog post, our apartment bed bug lawyers will explain what to do if your building has bed bugs, and how your landlord should — and shouldn’t — respond to the problem.

Are You the Victim of a Retaliatory Eviction?

If your landlord is threatening eviction actions because you made a bed bug complaint, don’t panic.  If a landlord decides to evict a tenant after the tenant reports a housing code violation, such as a bed bug infestation, then the tenant may actually have a cause of action against the landlord for something called a “retaliatory eviction.”

A retaliatory eviction may occur when a landlord evicts, attempts to evict, or intentionally fails to renew the tenant’s lease because the tenant complained about the condition of the property, or asserted his or her legal rights.  Examples of a tenant asserting their legal right that prompted a landlord’s retaliatory eviction include:

  • Complaining to a government agency about a violation of a housing code.
  • Complaining to the landlord about a violation of the landlord’s duty to the tenant.
  • Joining or creating a tenant’s union.

In most states, retaliatory evictions are prohibited, and thus landlords may not evict a tenant for any improper reason.

In Maryland, it is considered to be a retaliatory action for a residential landlord to:

  • Threaten to evict a tenant.
  • File a court action to evict a tenant.
  • Increase a tenant’s rent, which may apply even if the property is not rent-controlled.
  • Decrease services provided to a tenant, such as maintenance functions.
  • Terminate a periodic tenancy, such as a month-to-month lease.

apartment bed bug infestation

Tenants’ Rights Laws in Maryland: Prohibited Landlord Conduct

The laws and regulations pertaining to tenants’ rights and limitations on landlords’ legal powers vary from state to state.  In Maryland, a landlord may not take any of the above actions for any of the following reasons:

  • The tenant (or someone acting on the tenant’s behalf) complains to the landlord, or any public agency against the landlord, about an alleged violation of the lease, an alleged violation of state and/or federal laws, and/or a dangerous housing condition.
  • The tenant (or the tenant’s agent) has sued or participated in a lawsuit against the landlord, or testified against the landlord in a separate lawsuit.
  • The tenant has participated in any tenant’s organization, such as a union.

Furthermore, the landlord’s retaliatory action is also prohibited in the following scenarios:

  • The landlord’s reason for retaliation occurred less than six months earlier, provided additionally that (1) the tenant is current on rent, and (2) in a month-to-month or year-to-year tenancy, a court has not entered more than three judgments against the tenant for unpaid rent in the previous 12 months.
  • In a weekly tenancy, a court must not have entered more than five judgments against the tenant  for unpaid rent in the previous 12 months.
  • Where the tenant has lived in the unit for six months or less, a court must not have entered three judgments of possession for unpaid rent.

These regulations are supplied by Md. Code Ann., Real Prop. § 8-208.1 (West)

Now that we’ve covered prohibitions on retaliatory eviction, the next question is what the tenant should actually do.

If a tenant makes a complaint about a housing code violation such as a bed bug infestation, and is confronted with one of the above retaliatory actions, the tenant may respond in one of two ways.  First, the tenant may raise the retaliation action as defense against the landlord’s court action to evict the tenant.  Alternately, the tenant may file a separate court claim to seek monetary compensation for damages that have resulted from the landlord’s retaliatory action.  Needless to say, tenants are strongly advised to work with an attorney who has experience handling retaliatory eviction claims, ideally claims stemming specifically from bed bug complaints.

The bed bug attorneys of Whitney, LLP have years of experience representing apartment tenants across Maryland.  We have represented clients in bed bug lawsuits located in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, and Prince Georges County.  To set up a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call our law offices today at (410) 583-8000.