Bed bugs are tiny pests that infest virtually all organic matter, including mattresses, clothes, carpets, upholstery and draperies. The bugs are notoriously difficult to exterminate, so tenants in apartment buildings and similar facilities get understandably concerned when the bugs are found. If a bed bug problem is bad enough, some tenants consider suing the landlord. This is possible in most cases, but many lawsuits for bed bugs fail.
It generally is possible to sue a landlord for bed bugs in every state. However, every state has different regulations when it comes to lawsuits involving the problematic pests. For example, in New York, Governor David Paterson signed the Budbug Disclosure Act. This law requires landlords to disclose a one-year history of bed bugs to prospective new tenants. Laws such as this sometimes support a tenant's rights to sue. An attorney for your state can tell you exactly what regulations would help your lawsuit.
Proof of Infestation Source
Even when state laws support a bed bug lawsuit, in most cases, a court looks for evidence of negligence on the part of the landlord. The court wants evidence that the infestation was the landlord's fault, or that the landlord knew about the problem and didn't take sufficient steps to remedy the issue. Landlords who get sued generally make a case that the tenant brought the bugs with them into the dwelling. If no one else has complained, tenants often lose their case.
The Time Issue
Bed bugs can live for months without food, and they can survive in the smallest cracks and crevices, according to Bed-Bug.org. This means that attempts to remove bed bugs from a dwelling often are unsuccessful. Even so, when faced with a potential lawsuit, many landlords offer to try extermination. As the landlord and tenant wait for the results of the extermination process, the initiation of a lawsuit often gets stalled. If you want to sue, it's usually better to proceed with the lawsuit instead of waiting for extermination, as there is no guarantee the extermination will eliminate the problem.
The Bottom Line on the Bugs
You usually have a right to sue your landlord for bed bugs. However, it's unlikely you'll win unless you can prove that you weren't the source of the problem. Because you probably cannot do this, you should not expect your landlord to comply with requests for alternate housing arrangements, release from your lease, payment of moving fees and similar items. To accommodate you in this way makes the landlord appear as though he is accepting liability, and most landlords don't make this mistake. You may have a greater chance of winning if you put formal complaints in writing to the landlord prior to the landlord. If the landlord doesn't respond to these complaints, you might have a case for negligence.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.