Tenants’ Rights: Is My Landlord Responsible for Bed Bugs?

The landlord-tenant relationship is built on give and take.  Tenants are responsible for keeping the property clean and following the landlord’s rules, while landlords are responsible for repairs, maintenance, and sometimes, select utilities.  But which party assumes contractual responsibility for taking care of pest control?  If your apartment has bed bugs, is it your job to exterminate them, or your landlord’s?  As a tenant, you have certain legal rights — and the better you understand how to wield them, the better you’ll be able to protect yourself against unfair demands and abuses of landlord power.

Why You Need a Professional Pest Control Company

It isn’t only human renters who call Baltimore’s apartments home.  Countless bed bugs lurk in the nooks and crannies of apartment buildings across the city and its surrounding suburbs.  This is particularly a problem in some of Baltimore’s Section 8 housing  properties, largely because the O/As or “Operator/Agents,” who manage certain  properties, do not comply with the rigorous pest control initiatives set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), in Notice H 2012-5, or other state or local laws.

While Baltimore’s Section 8 properties have earned a reputation for struggling with frequent bed bug infestations, all types of rental properties are vulnerable.  No matter how affordable or costly the rent, how new or old the building, how large or small the unit, bed bugs do not discriminate, and will gladly take their blood meals anywhere they can find them.

So if your apartment develops a bed bug infestation, what should you do?

Your first instinct may be to attempt a DIY or Do-It-Yourself treatment.  Unfortunately — as many bed bug victims have learned the hard way — DIY methods seldom work.  Oft-touted “remedies” such as diatomaceous earth (DE), tea tree oil, and chemical foggers are rife with shortcomings, and in most cases bed bugs subjected to these treatments will simply disperse, regroup, and continue to breed.  The EPA even cautions that “some bed bug populations have become resistant to pyrethrins and pyrethroids,” which are the most commonly used compounds of all.

Based on the many unsuccessful DIY stories we have heard from our clients over the years, we suggest enlisting professional help at the very first signs of a bed bug infestation: typically itchy bites upon waking, tiny brown stains in your bedding, and/or the presence a sweet or musty odor.

But who pays for that professional help?  You, or your landlord?

apartment bed bug infestation

Are Landlords Responsible for Bed Bug Infestations?

As anyone who’s ever lived in more than one apartment building knows from experience, no two leases are exactly the same.  Some permit what others deny, and some impose greater responsibilities upon the tenant than others.  However, while specific clauses will vary from one contract to the next, landlords are still required to comply with municipal health and building code in the area where they rent.  Even if the lease you’ve signed contains a clause that goes against a local law, the lease clause will likely be found to be unenforceable, and you will be entitled to protection from the local law.

Unfortunately, there is no single, simple method tenants can use effectively to determine the applicable pieces of code.  Some municipalities choose to draft their own, unique set of health, building, and safety ordinances, while others elect to adopt international standards.  One widely used international standard that many municipalities adopt is known as the International Property Maintenance Code, or IPMC.  The IPMC is just one of many international codes established by the International Code Council, or ICC.

To make matters even more confusing for renters, some cities adopt portions of the IPMC while rejecting others, and others adopt but also change certain sections of the IPMC. Moreover, existing building and sanitation codes are periodically revisited by legislators. This means your town or city’s past or current use of the IPMC does not guarantee continued usage in the future, which could potentially pose problems for your claim depending on the duration of the legal proceedings which arise.

By attempting to navigate the complexities of municipal code on your own, you may miss crucial details which could have a serious impact on your claim.  The attorneys of Whitney, LLP have extensive experience analyzing and effectively applying local and state ordinances to a wide variety of property damage and personal injury claims arising from bed bug infestations in all types of residential structures.

Whitney, LLP handles apartment and landlord-tenant bed bug and injury cases across Maryland, including single-unit dwellings, multi-unit dwellings, duplexes, condominiums, townhomes, large apartment complexes, and Section 8 properties.  We have successfully resolved bed bug cases in Baltimore City (both Section 8 and regular rental properties), Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince Georges County and other counties.

In our experience as litigators, most states, counties, and cities supply localized and/or IPMC-based provisions which benefit tenants by holding landlords liable for bed bug extermination and pest control, subject to certain restrictions and conditions.  For example, certain portions of the IPMC mandate landlord responsibility for pest control with regard to building interiors and exteriors, though there are several exceptions related to the number of units in the building.

In short, whether the landlord or renter assumes responsibility for bed bug extermination depends heavily on where you live and the type of structure you inhabit.  Needless to say, Baltimore’s building code may be very different from the building code which applies to your particular county.

Interpreting municipal sanitation codes can be challenging, but the experienced bed bug attorneys of Whitney, LLP can help you understand your legal rights.  If your apartment is infested by bed bugs and your landlord takes retaliatory actions or refuses to comply with local, state, or federal laws, we may be able to advocate for you and recover compensation on your behalf.  To start discussing your situation in a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call our law offices right away at (410) 583-8000.

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