Bugged: Bed Bugs, Landlords and You

By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter

Los Angeles has a bed bug problem.

Our fine city is consistently ranked within the top 10 U.S. metro areas for infestations, a fact that experts attribute to the city’s ever-increasing population density, as well as Angelenos’ tendency to travel in and out of town, giving foreign bugs a chance to hitch a ride on luggage or clothing and see the bright lights of Hollywood for themselves.

They can also move from apartment unit to unit through small cracks and crevices, making large cities with dense, multi-family housing consistent trouble spots.

Anyone who’s come into contact with the bloodsucking parasites knows that even news that a neighboring unit has bugs is enough to drive a sane person to clear out their closet, bag up their bed, spend hours on Google and seriously consider burning the place down at the first signs of infestation—all to realize they just had a couple spider bites.

(No, that very specific anecdote has no relation to this reporter.)

The point is, bed bugs go beyond household pest status and can seriously impact homeowners’ and renters’ quality of life.

That’s why new laws regarding the way landlords have to address infestations are worth paying attention to.

Effective for the first time last summer, California landlords have new expectations when it comes to informing tenants about potential infestations and reacting to the troublesome bugs.

For one, they must provide a lease addendum to renters with education about bed bugs—such as early signs of infestation, which include itchy red welts on the body, small red or brown spots on bedding, molted skins, white sticky eggs, or empty eggshells on mattresses, box springs, headboards and bedding.

Yuck.

Landlords are also prevented from showing or renting a vacant unit if there’s an active infestation, and they are not allowed to retaliate against tenants who have reported an infestation by evicting them.

Landlords are not required to inspect for bed bugs if they don’t suspect infestations and they have not heard concerns from tenants. If they do arrange an inspection, they are required to notify tenants of the findings within two days.

Renters, in turn, are required to cooperate with the inspection and elimination of bed bugs—which usually involves thorough cleaning and then a heat treatment that increases the unit’s temperature to about 140 degrees, drying up the bugs and killing them.

Most exterminators now believe that heat treatments are more effective than older chemical options.

Regardless of the means of obliteration, the new laws codify a set of best practices for dealing with bed bugs that many landlords and tenants already generally follow.

But legislators did cite an increase in bed bug-related litigation as reasoning for putting new requirements into law.

The expectations for both tenants and landlords are clear. Now let’s all cross our fingers that we never need to use them.