What to do when a tenant says they have bed bugs?
February 18, 2018 11:22 AM   Subscribe

A tenant just informed me they have bed bugs. I have no idea what to do, or what my obligations are. I'm a landlord in Illinois.

A tenant of mine says they have bed bugs. One of them went abroad and brought them back. They want to take care of it themselves, which I admire, but I am concerned. They have no resources, they're kids, and while I admire that they want to take responsibility for bringing them in, I feel the house itself may be at stake. Also, I'm not sure what my legal responsibilities are. For instance, do I need to tell the group that's already rented the house next year? Or future tenants in general? How hard is it to get rid of these things?
posted by xammerboy to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where in IL makes a difference. For example the Chicago tenant ordenance it's very explicit about bedbug removal... But that's only limited to the City of Chicago (or maybe cook county, but I'm pretty sure it's Chicago)

It's probably exactly what you should follow because its based in practices that actually get rid of bedbugs. It also clearly defines what the tenant responsibility should be.

But, your city may have a different ordinance with different timeframes and legal requirements. Or none at all.

Many of the tenant legal aid websites have great in depth information on how it works in Chicago.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

You don't want it to spread or get worse, irregardless of who is supposed to pay for it, you might want to pay to clear it up now.
posted by TheAdamist at 11:42 AM on February 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Since your profile says you live in Chicago, the Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance outlines what your duties are as a landlord, and your tenants don't have to take care of it themselves; unfortunately, my understanding is that that's your duty, regardless of them bringing it in. (IANAL, IANYL, if that's something you want to question.)

Also, hire a professional exterminator from a brand-name outfit (Terminex, Orkin, etc.) -- not some dude with a canister who can do the job cheaply. (Not meant as an insult to you, I just don't know you so don't know if that was an instinct.)

Since you're in Chicago, I'd strongly recommend Smithereen -- they've been around since the 1800s, so they predate DDT.

Check out, and point your tenants towards, bedbugger.com.

And note that fumigation is not at all a useful method -- if your exterminator says it, he's a hack, because it just spreads them.

How hard are they to get rid of? They are very difficult to get rid of, but if the proper procedures are followed, it's very possible.
posted by WCityMike at 11:44 AM on February 18, 2018

You want to bring in a professional to evaluate the situation -- someone who has prior experience with bedbugs, preferably a specialist, so probably not just your regular exterminator. It's expensive, but repeated failed treatments will be more expensive.

Do not let your tenants 'take care of it themselves.' That could easily make the problem worse. In Illinois, you can charge the tenant the full cost of removal services if you can prove they brought the bedbugs into the property, but it's difficult to prove. And if they have no resources, they may not have the money.

Bedbug protocols are pretty exhausting to follow -- bagging up all your possessions, washing and drying all your clothing, living out of plastic bags. If your tenants want to take responsibility, you could allow them to share in the costs of treatment, but I think the most effective tack would be for you to engage a professional at your own cost, and to emphasise to them that it's really, really important that they strictly follow the bedbug treatment protocols to the letter.
posted by halation at 11:49 AM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm not actually in Chicago proper. I live in Evanston. Thanks for the info though!
posted by xammerboy at 11:49 AM on February 18, 2018

I've already contacted Smithereen and asked how much an inspection will cost. They are going to get back to me. Does anyone know what kind of literature I should be looking at in my area (Evanston, IL - North Chicago Suburb) to find out what my landlord obligations are?
posted by xammerboy at 12:21 PM on February 18, 2018

When I as tenant thought I had bedbugs (probably turned out to be mosquitos getting in in the night) my landlord’s first step was to have a professional bedbug sniffing dog come in. The dog indicated that it wasn’t bedbugs after all.
posted by rustcellar at 12:21 PM on February 18, 2018

On the "bedbugs are difficult to get rid of" front: in my extended social circle, the difficulty of getting rid of bedbugs has varied substantially depending on whether it's a house or an apartment and the size/duration of the infestation. A small infestation caught early in a house seems to be the most manageable. When you talk to your tenants, you might want to establish just what they've found. (A bedbug dog and an inspection will also be needed, but your tenants might say anything from "we got back this week and I found a single bug in my suitcase" to "we traveled three months ago and I found a whole bunch in my mattress")
posted by Frowner at 12:28 PM on February 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely ensure that it's bedbugs- I had a tenant who thought she had them and it turned out her bites were from fleas on a coworker's dog who liked to nap under her desk at her office (?!) and the house was totally free of both bedbugs and fleas.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:01 PM on February 18, 2018

Honestly, forget your "obligations". This is something that could ruin your rental for years to come. Take care of it yourself NOW (and write it off in your taxes). Call an inspector AND pest removal company and take care of it starting* this week.

* "Starting" because it will require multiple treatments over time.
posted by Toddles at 2:35 PM on February 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would be all over this as soon as possible. It's the difference between eradicating it fairly painlessly while it's a small infestation or having a nightmare situation for potentially years. Don't let them do it, manage it yourself so you know it's being done properly.
posted by Jubey at 4:31 PM on February 18, 2018

This is something that could ruin your rental for years to come.

Yes, this could make your rental effectively radioactive for years. You will not be able to get or keep tenants in the future if you don't manage this ASAP. Handle this yourself, and don't spare the expense.
posted by praemunire at 5:10 PM on February 18, 2018

If this is a standalone house, you're MUCH better off. A pro can tent the house and pump in Vikane at a stronger concentration than is used for termites, and it takes care of the problem in one fell swoop.
posted by hwyengr at 7:04 PM on February 18, 2018

Depending on the treatment, there may be quit a bit of prep work required from your tenants (emptying closets, dressers, and bookshelves, laundering and sealing bedding, taking down artwork and mirrors). I don't know anything about what kind of access landlords are allowed, but if you can, you should do a walk-through before the treatment to make sure they've done everything they're supposed to do.
posted by amarynth at 5:54 AM on February 19, 2018

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