Can I Sue My Landlord for Bed Bugs in the Building?

Understand your options when your landlord refuses to address a bed bug problem in your rental.

By , Legal Editor
Updated by Ann O’Connell, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Every state requires landlords to provide tenants with a safe and livable home. Lawyers often refer to this requirement as being a landlord's implied warranty of habitability. Providing a safe and livable home includes exterminating rodents and other vermin that endanger tenants' health or safety. A widespread bed bug infestation qualifies as a habitability problem, and some states have laws requiring landlords to take specific actions regarding bed bugs in rental properties.

If, despite a state law making your landlord responsible for bed bugs, your landlord refuses to take action, you might have some options. Depending on the law where you live, you might be able to:

  • withhold rent
  • report your landlord to the local health department
  • pay for the extermination and deduct the costs from your rent, or
  • move out without future liability for rent.

Before taking any of these actions, it's best to consult with a local attorney to discuss what remedies are available to tenants in your area. Some "self-help" remedies like these are not allowed in all areas, and, if that's the case, you could find yourself owing your landlord additional money.

Depending on the specifics of your case, you might also have grounds for suing your landlord for breaching the implied warranty of habitability—by allowing the bed bugs to remain, the landlord is not providing a safe and livable home.

In most cases, the best place to sue your landlord for a bed bug problem is your local small claims court. All small claims court rules differ slightly, but they all have a maximum dollar amount a plaintiff (the person filing the suit) can sue for—often somewhere between $3000 to $9000. Some of the benefits of small claims court include the fact that it's relatively inexpensive to file a lawsuit, you don't need a lawyer (in fact, some states prohibit lawyers in small claims court), and usually your suit will be decided by a judge within a month or so.

If your landlord is not responding to your complaints about bed bugs, you might be able to sue your landlord for:

  • lost or damaged property—for example, bedding ruined by bed bugs
  • costs of moving to a new rental and any additional rent you had to pay for the new (comparable) rental
  • costs you incurred trying to eradicate the bed bugs
  • compensation for personal injuries—including pain and suffering caused by the bed bugs, and
  • your attorney fees and court costs, if you had to hire a lawyer to sue the landlord.

Before filing a small claims lawsuit, be sure to send your landlord a written demand letter (this is required in some states as a condition of filing a small claims lawsuit) that explains your legal rights and what you want from the landlord. Also, take your time preparing evidence, including photos of the bed bug problems, your complaint letters to your landlord or manager, reports of and receipts from any exterminators you hired, and statements from other tenants in the building.

Whether you use small claims court or sue the landlord in another court, you might want to consult with a local landlord-tenant attorney. Even if you don't hire the attorney to represent you in court, many attorneys are willing to advise a client on how to best prepare for a small claims court case. Additionally, if your lease or rental agreement includes an attorneys' fees clause, and you can point to a specific clause that your landlord has breached by not addressing the bed bug problem in your rental, the court might order your landlord to reimburse you for any attorneys' fees you incur.

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