Understandably, many people don’t want to live in a building with a history of bed bugs. Knowing that full eradication of a bed bug infestation is rare unless the landlord acts swiftly and thoroughly, many tenants won’t even consider renting a place that ever had a problem.
State Bed Bug Disclosure Laws
If you’re lucky, you may have the benefit of an explicit local or state law that requires landlords to disclose a property’s bed bug history. These include Maine (under 14 M.R.S.A. §6021-A) and New York City (NYC Administrative Code § 27-2018.1). To check out your state, see the list of state bed bug laws published on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Unfortunately, most tenants can’t count on a have state bed bug disclosure law. But if so, how will you know if a rental property has a current or past problem with bed bugs? You can start by asking the current tenants or neighbors in nearby buildings, and you can point blank ask a potential landlord or manager (see the Nolo article How to Check Out a Landlord or Property Manager for advice on doing this). Hopefully, you’ll get useful answers to your questions.
Tenant Options for Landlord Failure to Make Bed Bug Disclosures
A landlord must answer your bed bug questions truthfully or face the consequences. If you find out that a landlord failed to tell you about a property’s bed bug history, you may have several options.
- Breaking the lease and leaving without responsibility for future rent. Your theory is fraud, which will undo a contract and leave you free to walk away.
- Withholding rent or using the repair-and-deduct remedy. Check your state rules on rent withholding for the specific the conditions under which you may use these options. Keep in a mind, that in a major bed bug infestation, especially in a large apartment building, these remedies may not practically do you much good (state laws typically limit the amount of rent you may withhold and this may not cover your costs).
- Suing the landlord for damages. In the event that a bed bug problem reappears in a building with a history of bed bugs, and you sue over lost or damaged possessions, costs of moving and any increased rent, and the psychological consequences of having lived with bed bugs, your changes of recovering will be enhanced by the property owner’s lack of candor about past problems. A competent lawyer will argue that the landlord’s failure to disclose a potentially dangerous situation set you up for financial and other costs that could have been avoided had the landlord been truthful. For more on suing the landlord for a bed bug problem see the related Nolo article on the subject.