What if Another Tenant in My Building Has Bed Bugs?

Depending on factors like the city where you live and type of building you live in, your landlord may be legally required to keep your apartment free of bed bugs and other insect infestations. But what happens if the infestation isn’t in your apartment? If your neighbor has bed bugs, is your landlord responsible? Is the affected tenant required to take any action? Most importantly, is there anything you can do before the bugs spread to your unit? Our apartment bed bug infestation attorneys explain some of the legal considerations tenants of multi-unit buildings should be aware of.

Can Bed Bugs Travel From Apartment to Apartment?

Yes, they can. As you may be aware, bed bugs are expert travelers; with that in mind, it comes as no surprise they can absolutely travel from one infested apartment to neighboring units.

Can Bed Bugs Travel Through Apartment Walls?

Bed bugs aren’t taking hallways and staircases like you and your neighbors do. So, how exactly do bed bugs travel between apartments? Bed bugs can enter the walls of an infested room through light switches, outlets, and essentially any cracks or voids present. They can squeeze into any space big enough for a credit card to fit. Once they’re in the apartment walls, bed bugs can easily travel along electrical wires and pipes to reach other units.

Can Bed Bugs Travel From House to House on Their Own?

Bed bugs can hide in clothing, linens, furniture, luggage, and other belongings to find new homes across the street, on the other end of town, or even the opposite side of the country.  Guests in an infested home or apartment can easily and unknowingly spread the infestation back to their own home.

How to Tell If There’s Bed Bugs in Your Apartment Building

Bed bugs are notorious for their ability to spread rapidly. Thanks to the combination of short breeding cycles, large broods of eggs, and ever-increasing resistance against some of the most common types of insecticides and pest control products, it takes only a few months (and sometimes only a few weeks) for small populations to explode into full-blown infestations. While bed bugs are cause for concern in any living environment, these factors make them a particularly serious problem in crowded quarters — for example, urban apartment buildings.

But how will you know if your neighbor has bed bugs in the first place? After all, you certainly can’t confirm your suspicions by sneaking into his or her unit. The sudden appearance of itchy red bites on your skin, red spot on your sheets, and bed bugs on your laundry, in your bed, or on your walls is another clear indication that a population already exists somewhere inside the building.  Also, if your neighbor begins to move furniture out of their unit, especially mattresses, it is a sign they are dealing with bed bugs.

Keep in mind that bed bugs are speedy travelers capable of covering distances of up to three feet per minute, so if they’ve infested your neighbor’s apartment, it’s only a matter of time before they spread to your unit as well. Walls, ceilings, light switches, and pipes are all pathways that bed bugs use to travel to seek out human blood.

But what, if anything, can you get the building’s landlord to do about it? Do renters have any legal recourse when it comes to apartment units they don’t actually pay for? Or are you simply out of luck until the affected tenant complains?

Tenant Landlord Lease Agreement - What if Another Tenant in My Building Has Bed Bugs?

How Property Code Affects Tenant-Landlord Bed Bug Liability

The answer depends partially on the building code in the community where you live. However, while each town and city is governed in part by its own municipal code, these local codes are sometimes superseded by the IPMC, or International Property Maintenance Code. The IPMC belongs to a family of national codes, such as the International Plumbing Code and the International Private Sewage Disposal Code, which are administered by the International Code Council (ICC). These codes are collectively referred to as “I-Codes.”

As we discussed in our previous blog post about landlord responsibility for bed bugs, some of the key IPMC factors which impact pest control liability are the total number of units in the building and the type of dwelling it is. For example, one portion of the code specifies that renters in multi-unit buildings are responsible for bed bug extermination in cases where only the renter’s unit has bed bugs.  However, if one unit is infested, it is almost certain they are not the only unit dealing with an infestation. 

What Should I Do If My Neighbor Has Bedbugs?

  • Visually inspect your apartment’s furniture with a flashlight. Check your sofa, dressers, nightstands, and your bed. Signs of bed bugs include small blood spots, black spots, caste skins of immature bed bugs, and of course bed bugs themselves.
  • Check your belongings and shoes before entering your unit. Do not set purses, backpacks, or shopping bags on the ground outside your door.
  • Avoid contact with your neighbor until the building is cleared by a pest management professional.
  • Contact your landlord in writing to (1) report your concerns about the infestation spreading and (2) to determine if bed bug inspection or treatment is necessary. Since bed bugs live in cracks, outlets, and voids, units that share a wall with an infected apartment are at higher risks of bed bug infestations.

My Apartment Has Bed Bugs — What Are My Rights?

So what does this all mean for you as a tenant? In some jurisdictions, any infestation in a rental unit is the property owner and/or operator’s responsibility. In other jurisdictions, as long as your neighbor’s unit is the only one being affected, he or she assumes financial responsibility for addressing the infestation. However, if the infestation spreads to other units in the building — yours, for example — then responsibility for extermination measures can potentially shift to the landlord. Of course, each situation is different, and there are other factors that can become important when determining responsibility for treating an infestation.

If your landlord is considered responsible for handling extermination, he or she should always hire a licensed pest control company. In most jurisdictions, only licensed professional exterminators can safely (and legally) apply certain pesticides and other pest control treatments, including heat treatment. 

Unfortunately, landlords often try to cut corners by relying on cheap and ineffective DIY treatments — typically foggers or consumer-grade bug spray. Some landlords even attempt to perform heat treatment themselves, all to the extreme detriment of their tenants, which can worsen the infestation and cause it to be driven deeper into hiding. If you sustain bite-related injuries because your landlord refuses to pay for professional extermination measures, you may be able to recover financial compensation by filing a personal injury claim.

Whitney, LLP has been fighting for victims of bed bug infestations for many years. As experienced attorneys in bed bug infestations in Maryland, the team at Whitney, LLP has secured significant settlements for those that have suffered due to the negligence of others.

As seen in many of their bed bug and termite fraud settlements, the lawyers at Whitney, LLP have worked diligently to ensure that their clients receive fair compensation for damages and injuries sustained by seemingly indifferent landlords and realty management companies. 

By using the standard of Maryland law as their guiding principle, these attorneys have been able to receive just settlements like that in the case of Han v. Highland #689 LLC et al. Non-disclosure of a previous infestation creates the basis to allege fraudulent concealment and violation of Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act.  In the Han case a  young woman moved into a unit and almost immediately began to experience bed bugs.  She recovered a $70,000.00 settlement after alleging she was never informed of the company’s unsuccessful treatment of the townhouse for bed bugs up to the day before she moved into her new residence.

The Maryland Consumer Protection Act, as well as other precedents regarding negligence and fraud, are intended to hold landlords responsible for their actions. The attorneys at Whitney, LLP have extensive experience navigating the often complex legal process and can assist their clients in fighting for what is rightfully theirs.

Contact Us for What to Do If Your Neighbor Has Bed Bugs

Worried there are bed bugs in the apartment next door? Do you feel your landlord isn’t doing all they can to address the issue? We’re here to help.

If you’re concerned that your landlord or other tenants in your building are violating state laws or municipal health code, the bed bug litigation attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to be of assistance. Recovery can include fees you have wrongfully paid, and attorneys’ fees. To start learning some of your options in a free and private legal consultation, call our law offices today at (410) 583-8000.


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