Do Landlords Have to Disclose Bed Bugs to Tenants?
If you’re already familiar with our legal blog, you may remember our article about whether landlords are responsible for exterminating bed bugs. In this article, we’ll cover whether Maryland landlords have to disclose bed bugs before the tenants decide to move in.
Why Are Bed Bugs a Problem in Apartment Buildings?
As we noted in a previous piece about renters insurance and bed bugs, approximately 30% of Baltimore’s housing is comprised of apartments, condominiums, and other multi-occupant dwellings. Since Baltimore has a population of about 622,000, we can extrapolate that roughly 200,000 people are renters. For this demographic, bed bugs are a major concern.
Bed bugs do not actively seek out or have a “preference” for apartment buildings over single-family homes: their only requirement is proximity to their food, which is exclusively human blood. However, since the populations of apartment buildings are constantly in flux – particularly in high-rise buildings, which can be packed with hundreds of units – there are countless opportunities for bed bugs to enter. This is amplified even further by the fact that every single apartment unit in a given building has its own set of bedding and other furniture. While a single-family home might have one or two beds, an apartment building can have dozens or hundreds. When you add second-hand furniture to the mix, it’s a recipe for infestation.
Once the bed bugs have found their way into a multi-unit building, they have little incentive to leave due to the high number of potential victims upon which to feed. To a bed bug, a condo or apartment building is like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Furthermore, the issue of bed bug infestations in apartment buildings is often exacerbated by negligent pest control efforts on the part of the landlord, who, in too many cases, will prioritize saving money over the health and safety of his or her renters. While homeowners will generally take immediate action the moment an infestation is detected, tenants might have to struggle for weeks or even months just to get their bed bug problem looked at by the landlord. In the meantime, the infestation keeps growing and growing.
Do Landlords Have to Warn Renters About Pest Infestations?
For all of the reasons described above, bed bugs are highly common in apartment buildings. In recent years, bed bug populations have boomed across the United States, particularly in big cities like Baltimore. (Take a look at our article about the worst cities for bed bugs to find out if your city is on the list.)
In light of these facts, many urban renters are understandably nervous about discovering bed bugs in their new apartment. But how likely is that to happen? Are landlords supposed to warn potential renters about bed bugs in advance, or is it simply luck of the draw once you move in?
In short, the answer depends on where you live. Not only does each state have its own legislation addressing duties to disclose, each county within a given state also has its own code outlining tenant and landlord obligations with regard to pest management (and other safety issues). While Maryland landlords are supposed to disclose current and previous bed bug infestations to new tenants, many elect to withhold the information in the interest of attracting more renters.
This is unacceptable conduct. It is our opinion that landlords always need to disclose a known infestation to potential tenants, because most, if not all, tenants will choose to live elsewhere instead of agreeing to live in infested residence. Not only is withholding bed bug information ethically and morally questionable – we often consider it be an act of fraud, and may be grounds for litigation. Landlords have a duty of care to their tenants, which means taking any and all reasonable steps to protect those tenants from foreseeable risks of death and injury. Like mold or lead – which are disclosed through prominent addendums – bed bugs pose a potential health hazard, because their bites can lead to skin infections, severe allergic reactions, and, in rare cases, fatal conditions like Chagas Disease and hepatitis B.
If a landlord is aware that a unit or building has a problem with bed bugs, yet fails to disclose this information to a new renter, the landlord may be liable when the renter is inevitably bitten and forced to replace infested personal property. However, by filing a personal injury lawsuit against the landlord, it may be possible for the renter to recover damages (compensation) for his or her medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other financial losses caused by the infestation. Our lawyers have filed many personal injury lawsuits alleging injuries from tenants who were bitten by bed bugs.
Furthermore, depending on where the renter lives, his or her county code might also hold the landlord responsible for paying for the costs of bed bug extermination. If the pest control company fails to eradicate the bed bugs, or sickens the tenant by using excessive amounts of pesticide, the business may be liable for any injuries or illnesses suffered by the renter. Landlords and pest control companies can both be negligent in their duties – and should both be held accountable when tenants suffer as a result.
If you found bed bugs in your new apartment, or were forced to pay for bed bug extermination fees, you may be entitled to compensation. To talk about your rental experience and potential case in a free and private legal consultation, call the bed bug lawyers of Whitney, LLP at (410) 583-8000 today. We handle bed bug apartment cases throughout Maryland, including Baltimore, Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Upper Marlboro, Westminster, Rockville and Silver Spring.