Bedbugs are a nightmare for both landlords and tenants. Not only are they difficult (and expensive) to eradicate, but the legal responsibility for dealing with an infestation is hard to pin down. Keep reading for an overview of U.S. landlord-tenant law regarding bedbugs—or choose your state from the dropdown menu above for a discussion of your local laws.
Landlords are generally responsible for bedbugs under habitability laws
Other than Arkansas, every state in the U.S. has an implied warranty of habitability—in other words, a guarantee that a rental unit will remain habitable throughout a tenancy. Generally, these warranties cover the same basic things: running water, heat, electricity, a functional roof, door, and windows. But things start to get trickier when it gets to the specifics, since a lot of state laws don’t actually include a list of requirements for a rental unit to be considered habitable.
Certain states—including California, Colorado, and Michigan—have warranties that hold landlords accountable for getting rid of “vermin” (a term that should include bedbugs). Others, such as Washington and Oregon, require landlords to ensure that the property is vermin-free only at the start of the tenancy.
Everywhere else, it’s generally up to the courts to decide if the warranty applies to bedbug infestations. If it does, then that means landlords are responsible for getting rid of them—and if they refuse to, tenants can use remedies including repair and deduct, rent withholding, and even, in serious cases, constructive eviction to force their landlord to take action.
Bedbug infestations aren’t necessarily enough to claim constructive eviction
In New York State, for instance, court cases make it clear that a bedbug infestation could threaten the habitability of an apartment. But the decisions made by the courts aren’t always consistent about whether or not it constitutes a reason to leave the apartment and claim constructive eviction—the strongest legal protection a tenant has when dealing with breaches of the warranty. That's why it's generally a good idea to consult with a local attorney or tenants' rights group before moving out.
Determining fault can be tricky when it comes to bedbugs
One other thing to keep in mind is that pretty much every warranty of habitability has a caveat that says if the renter (or their guests) was responsible for causing the issue that created a violation of the warranty, then the landlord is no longer on the hook for fixing it. It can be really difficult to determine who was at fault in the case of a bedbug infestation—maybe the unit wasn’t infested at the time of move-in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the renter who brought them in. Another neighboring unit could have been infested, and the bedbugs could have spread. And, of course, most infestations happen unwittingly.
Some court cases have acknowledged this difficulty, noting that—even if a renter did cause the infestation—if they did it unknowingly, they shouldn't be held responsible for eradication.1 But that approach isn’t common, and often courts struggle to figure out the cause of the infestation. This is one of the reasons it can be so hard to figure out who is responsible for extermination when it comes to bedbugs in rentals.
A few states have laws that clarify who is responsible for infestations
There are a handful of states—Florida and Maine included—that actually have laws on the books about bedbugs. This applies in some cities as well, including NYC. In these places, there’s no question about whether or not bedbugs are the landlord’s responsibility. But this isn't common.
Some states ban landlords from renting out infested units
The laws in Arizona, California, Connecticut, and Maine prohibit landlords from renting out any unit that's actively infested with bedbugs. So, if a tenant can prove that the bedbug issue already existed, then there's no question about legal responsibility—it was against the law for the landlord to rent to them before eradicating the bugs.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.