One of your tenants just called and said they think they have bed bugs. What do you do?
You have lots of options.
The one option we don’t recommend is avoidance.
Many states have statutes and regulations that make landlords liable for either the damage caused by bed bugs or for any treatment necessary to eliminate them. To learn more, please see our page about laws regarding bed bugs.
The last thing you want is for one tenant to tell all your other tenants that they have a bed bug infestation. If you have any tenants on month-to-month contracts, they may just decide to leave rather than risk an infestation themselves. Further, if you are showing any of your units to prospective tenants, it is not uncommon for disgruntled tenants to tell your prospectives all about how terrible their situation is – and trust us, living with bed bugs makes life miserable.
Bed Bugs Spread
Even if your tenants’ lips are sealed about their bed bug infestation, the bed bugs they are harboring may soon spread to your other properties. This is particularly true if you had a tenant with bed bugs who moved, and you let the apartment sit vacant, even briefly, without treatment. Bed bugs are very good at detecting CO2, which we all exhale, and they are so razor thin, they will just squeeze right through walls into other apartments by means of gaps in wall outlets, grout, baseboards, or other unsealed spaces. What may have led one tenant to vacate can quickly lead to further vacancies if you don’t treat quickly.
Bed Bug Populations Explode
Female bed bugs can lay many eggs a day. But get this: male bed bugs can also lay eggs! All this egg laying can lead to explosive bed bug growth if you don’t act quickly to treat bed bugs. Perhaps equally important, you want to make sure to foster an environment where your tenants will feel comfortable about approaching you with reports of bed bugs – because an unreported infestation is just as bad, if not worse, than an untreated infestation.
As with health and war, the best defense is a good offense. Don’t let the bed bugs get a foothold in the first place! Here are some tips to make this happen:
1. Help your tenants feel comfortable reporting things like bed bugs
2. Let them know of the dangers of buying used furniture – or even worse – *found* furniture!
3. Inspect in-between vacancies just in case a tenant was afraid to report
4. Have an agreement in place, preferably at the time the lease is signed, that settles how treatment for bed bugs will occur if they are found, and what will be expected of the tenant. For examples of such provisions, see our example provisions page.
The first thing to do once you receive a report is contact a excellent pest control company. This is harder than it sounds – but we are amassing a database of just these types of companies. See our list of pest control companies for more details. Also, see our guide on hiring a pest control company. If you are not careful you can easily go through several treatment cycles without success, simply because the company you hired really had no idea what they are doing. By reviewing our guide, you can be more informed than most of the people you will talk with. Further, we review what treatment programs we have seen actually work and will talk you through why these other programs haven’t worked in the past and provide concrete examples from our own experience as to why.
Help the Tenant Feel In Control
You may have never had bed bugs, but be certain, it is horrible. Bed bugs feed on people in their sleep for an average of 14 minutes. Lying in a room where you know, at some point in your sleep, dozens of little bugs will crawl out of the wall, onto your face, and feast on you for 14 minutes at a time is extremely eery. It is very easy to become overly paranoid. Further, it can be very isolating because you may fear you will carry bed bugs to your friends homes – a legitimate fear: we have seen it happen. The more you can help your tenants feel the situation is under control, the less likely they are to do something drastic, like advertise their problem to all your other tenants. Or hunt you down and throw bottles of bed bugs on you – we have also seen this happen. Be on their side, and they will probably be on yours.