Dear PoPville – Landlords Responsibility Re: Bed Bugs

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

“Dear PoP,

I’m writing on behalf of a friend of mine. She is Ethiopian and lives in an apartment on 13th St., NW. She has been having problems with bedbugs and contacted her landlord. She tells me that her landlord responded that it wasn’t his responsibility and that only his Ethiopian tenants had problems with bedbugs. I don’t know about that but it seems he does have a responsibility to take action on the bug infestation. What would you advise?”

We learned how devastating bed bugs can be last week. I would think that it is absolutely the responsibility of the landlord to attempt to treat this problem with regular extermination visits. Does anyone know what government office should be contacted for this situation? DCRA?

33 Comment

  • “She tells me that her landlord responded that it wasn’t his responsibility and that only his Ethiopian tenants had problems with bedbugs.”

    Well that’s flat-out bullshit. Bedbugs don’t care if you’re from Ethiopia – they can happen to anyone.

    I’ve spoken to DCRA about a bedbug problem before, and they said they can force MGMT to spray. Contact them via twitter – they’re always quick to respond!

    • this is absolutely true. file a complaint w/ DCRA, they’ll come and inspect. the law is quite clear that in DC it is the landlord’s responsibility if there is an infestation of any kind…obviously bedbugs would fall under this.

      • Bed bugs are usually carried from bed to bed from a person. Does not mean the person has poor hygiene, very similar to say lice or scabies. Therefore, is it the landlords responsible to eradicate those infestations also?

  • That statement by the landlord is just ignorant. I had a bed bug crawl onto me at work (large government office) this week and absolutely wreck my arm.

    • May I ask, generally, what agency? I have a bedbug infestation and I cannot figure out where they came from.

    • I’d be careful. According to the experiences and research of a few people in my company that have had them, it often takes a fairly long period of being bitten until people build up the allergic response to start showing visible bites. One girl had them for months before bites started producing visible marks. The mattress was completely filled when they investigated and realized what was going on..

      • BLS — And I was lucky and had a minor infestation of just 2 bugs when I first moved here… They must’ve been the same gender. Lucked out but took me about 4 months of sporadic welts to figure out what the damned things were. I am hoping I got lucky again and only had the 1 get to me. These bites itch like hell and last for weeks.

  • at the very least, the dickbag landlord walked himself into a pretty strong housing discrimination case.

  • DCRA is good. If that doesn’t work, the Landlord-Tenant Resource Center at Landlord-Tenant Court, Office of the Tenant Advocate, and/or her council person are options.

    Plus, DC has a Human Rights Act…I bet if he fails to act he violates it. The Office of Human Rights could give her more info on that.

  • Crikey. We live on 13st NW. What building is it? Please don’t let it be near us…

  • Take pictures too….

  • Discrimination in the terms or conditions of rental housing based on an individual’s national origin is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    You can file a complaint with HUD/ DOJ Civil Rights. I am sure there is also an equivalent DC law and DC enforcement agency.

  • How long until the landlords come out to defend this guy and tell the OP her friend should just live with it and sometimes landlords have to skirt laws about dealing with infestation because of DC’s big bad regulations and high mortgages.

  • Does the lanlord-tenant act put all the onus on the landlord to spray? Alot of leases say its the responsibility of the tenant to keep the property pest free. As a landlord, especially of a single home, why is it my responsibility if the tenants cause a pest infestation?

    • Prove that the tenants caused the pest infestation vs. the adjoining house, another tenant or anyone else causing it.

      • That’s why I never completed my basement apartment. The money is not worth the hassle of people saying what I should or shouldn’t do with the tenant’s personal space.

  • I had bed bugs a few months ago and was told by my landlord that it was my responsibility to pay. After researching further I found out the landlord was only responsible for multi-unit properties. If its a single home they are not required to spray.

  • When is it the tenants’ responsibility? If never, that does not seem completely fair to the landlord. What if it was the tenant who brought the bed bugs to the house? Just asking.

  • I just read the other post about BB, checked the registry, and now I’m pissing my pants. The boarding house 3 doors down from my rowhouse is infested according to the registry. Are there any preventative measures that can be taken.

  • Once the bed bug problem is resolved, the landlord should be required to do the tenant’s laundry every week, make their bed, and every night to tuck them into bed and recite to them their nightly prayers.

    • Prior to that the landlord should be required to buy a brand new Sterns and Foster Premium mattress and box spring and deliver it to the apartment on 13th Street to replace the one the tenant first brought into the premises.

      Then return every week thereafter to the tenant’s laundry, make their bed, tuck them in nightly, prayers, etc.

  • It’s in the landlord’s best interests to help keep his or her property from becoming completely infested. Those suckers are terrible and very hard to get rid of. It took us months and was a terrible experience. I still have dark marks from the welts. And while it is the tenant’s responsibility to keep the place clean and as insect-free as possible, it really can happen to anyone, no matter how clean or vigilant. The BB epidemic is everywhere, and is spreading– just take a quick google and you’ll see news articles on how devastating they can be to both homes and businesses. Apathy about it is the worst way to go, on either the part of the landlord or the tenant.

  • It depends. Here is the pertinent section of the housing code:

    805.1 The occupant of any single-family dwelling shall keep the premises free from
    vermin, rodents, and rodent harborage.
    805.2 The occupant of any habitation in a two-family or multiple dwelling shall be
    responsible for the extermination of vermin and rodents whenever his or her habitation is
    the only one infested, except as provided otherwise in § 805.3.
    805.3 If an infestation of a single habitation is caused by failure of the owner or
    licensee to maintain a residential building in a rodent-proof or reasonably insect-proof
    condition, the exterminating shall be done by the owner or licensee.
    805.4 The owner or licensee of a two-family or multiple dwelling shall keep the
    common space in that residential building free from vermin and rodents, and rodent
    805.5 The extermination of vermin and rodents shall be done by the owner or licensee
    whenever infestation exists in two (2) or more of the habitations in two-family or
    multiple dwellings.

    If it’s a multi-unit building, and someone else has them, then the landlord has to pay. If she’s the only unit that has them, then she’ll have to try to prove it’s the landlord’s fault, which strikes me as very difficult.

  • Not enough just buying new mattresses for his tenants.

    Why should the landlord own more than one house ?

    We should invent, conjure up and impose more and more taxes and fees and slowly take more and more of what the landlord has.

    After all why should he have so much ?

    In this way we can gradually give all that the landlord has to his tenants who rightly and naturally deserve it, until one day the landlord can no longer sustain, loses all his properties, and is compelled to live in Ethiopia where he should be.

  • The lack of education about bedbugs is terrifying. Some facts:

    1. Matress covers have zero preventive value, unless you’re buying a used matress and you think it’s already infested. Bedbugs are happy to live in any tiny crevice near where humans sleep.

    2. Merely having an exterminator “spray” does nothing. You have to wash, steam, or throw away everything in the infested room: clothing, furniture, everything.

    3. If a large multi-unit dwelling gets a serious bedbug infestation, the infestation will probably never be eradicated. Unless the exterminator is relentless, and all of the residents cooperate fully, the extermination efforts will be ineffective, and the bedbugs will just get chased from unit to unit. So, even if you get the landlord to do something, rest assured that it probably won’t get rid of the bedbugs

    • thank you, this is what I understand to be true, so I’m glad I didn’t have to research it, etc.

    • If you get the mattress and box spring enclosures, not the regular mattress covers one sees in any bath and bed store, then they can help. They work by sealing in the bed bugs in the mattress and box spring (you must do both!) – and after a long time – (bed bugs can live up to a year without food!) – the bed bugs will die. It’s been my experience that mattress enclosures will not prevent them from living elsewhere but it does cut into severity of the infestation and does cut down dramatically on being bitten in bed. I would suggest buying them from the professionals, and having them install them as they know how to do it properly.

  • Both parties are responsible. LLs have to have a pest control strategy, and tenants have to have a pest prevention strategy.

  • Doesn’t extreme heat kill bed bugs?

  • Had a similar problem when I lived in Baltimore, I was told that I was responsible for paying for the exterminator unless I could prove that mine wasn’t the only unit infested. Because you know, everyone is chomping at the bit to talk about a bedbug infestation with their neighbor. Luckily, we were already moving out and the infestation wasn’t bad, so we didn’t take them with us.

    @Caroline yes, actually, when I had them, this extreme mid-atlantic heat worked in my favor. My roommate and I drove around with our belongings in our cars for a couple days before we moved the stuff into our respective new places. She found a couple dead bugs while unpacking and we both ended up bedbug free.

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