Bedbug legal/monetary compensation options - Vermont, USA
August 3, 2018 5:10 PM   Subscribe

In my last question, I found bedbugs in my bedroom. Exterminators did a heat treatment, it didn't work, now I have bites again. I don't want to keep repeating this cycle for months on end. I want to live in a bedbug-free apartment. If the next treatment doesn't work either, what are my options, legally and generally? Are there things I can do to ensure the next treament works better? I'm in central Vermont.

Landlord has generally been cooperative, ordering professional treatment promptly and paying for it without involving us. However, landlord knew that the adjacent apartment has active bedbug issues and that our apartment had previously had bedbug issues. We didn't ask and landlord did not inform us of this during lease-signing or move-in (my roommate and I just moved in a month ago). Not sure if that gives us any extra legal standing, but if we had known about this, we would not have signed the lease. Lease is for 1 year, I have read it carefully, and it says nothing about bedbugs/pests/health concerns.

Exterminators seem somewhat incompetent to me:

- yesterday they came to inspect our apartment (9 days post-treatment) for signs of any remaining bedbugs, found nothing, but last night I clearly and unambiguously got bitten again. The same exact thing happened to the adjacent unit (inspection found nothing, but tenants are getting bit).
- during the heat treatment, they did not recommend that we move furniture away from walls, and they did not remove the electrical outlet plates from the walls
- they did not steam the baseboards or floorboards (and I think that's where the bedbugs live, as there is zero evidence of them being in our beds or clothes or possessions)
- they did not tell us to seal our mattresses or give/recommend/sell us any mattress encasements
- most tellingly, they did not treat the entire building at the same time. The building has 3 units, 2 of which appear to have bedbugs. They treated us and the other affected apartment about 2 weeks apart, and haven't even inspected the last apartment as that tenant didn't report any bites.

Vermont housing law says that the landlord is responsible for providing a clean and pest-free dwelling. It does not say what happens if the landlord, despite their best efforts, is unable to provide this.

Generally speaking, I want to keep living in this apartment if I can. But if the next treatment doesn't work, I want some kind of compensation and I would strongly consider breaking the lease. Some options to stay sane in the meantime and to ensure treatment efficacy would be good too. Here's what I've thought of so far:

A) Ask landlord to buy us mattress encasements and bedbug catcher traps for each leg of the bed frame. I think landlord would probably agree to do this. Then I could at least sleep in my own bed again.
B) Insist that the extermination company treat the entire building at once. I've talked to all the tenants and they would agree to this.
C) Ask that the landlord use a different extermination company, although I've heard that there is only one other company serving Vermont, and they only do chemical treatment, so this may not be very effective.
D) Give the landlord written notice that if the second heat treatment doesn't work, we would break our lease and move out at the end of this month (assuming we find a place by then) or asap.
E) Give the landlord written notice that we'd like reduced rent or no rent for the 1 month we've been dealing with the bedbug problem. This is the "asking nicely" version.
F) Give the landlord written notice that we are withholding rent for the next month due to the bedbug problem of the previous month. This is the "playing hardball" version. I'm not sure if it would have consequences for our security deposit or would require going to court.
G) Call the Town Health Officer and alert them to the problem. But since landlord is already cooperating and paying for treatment, I'm not sure what this would accomplish.
H) Do my own bedbug treatment, which basically amounts to examining every floorboard in my room with a hairdryer and credit card, and/or steaming the floor and baseboard trim myself.
posted by Questolicious to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
 
Regarding option C, a quick search shows that there are in fact numerous exterminators serving Vermont. Maybe I should ask for a trained dog inspection?
posted by Questolicious at 7:57 PM on August 3, 2018


A) is pretty cheap, so you should get it now and not wait for landlord. But it will not save you from bites. The catchers are a good way to see if treatment worked.
B) is essential, using a different company.
posted by Sophont at 10:34 PM on August 3, 2018


Ugh, this is such a nightmare. I went through this in New York. A decade later it still stands out as one of the very worst life experiences I’ve ever had. Advice is based on my personal experience; your needs and decisions may vary. NB, some people may consider this the ‘nuke it from orbit’ option, but after living with this problem for several months and wasting vast amounts of money in cleaning and discarding, it’s what worked for me.

Once the building has multiple units with a problem, I would call this a lost cause and look for new housing ASAP. You’re correct in that there is almost certainly a part of the building itself (floors, ceilings, walls) they are living in, although of course you must be aware that they are hanging out in your furniture and textiles. You will have to be very, very, VERY careful about not bringing this to your next place.

Essentially, anything you take with you must be washed/dried at high heat, or heated in the oven. Place into newly constructed boxes (don’t leave boxes out - bugs will get in), then wrap those boxes in plastic garbage bags and seal with tape. If you have the psychological fortitude/risk tolerance, the next time the exterminators come over to heat treat your soft furnishings, have them ready to be loaded onto a truck immediately. (I did not, and tearfully waved goodbye to my mattress and sofa.) Once you’re ready to move, remove all plastic wrapping from boxes before they enter the new place, giving a careful visual check to each box, and the items that come out of it.

Keep track of expenses as you go. I would first ask, then tell your landlord you will not be paying rent until the problem is resolved. I wouldn’t expect that you’ll be able to get much compensation out of them for how much this will cost you personally, but it’s good to have a figure so you can explain to them how it’s impacting you financially.

Try some intermediate steps in the meantime (mattress covers, bug catchers, diatomaceous earth) to help you sleep better. Be aware you can transfer the problem to your place or work or friend’s houses if you’re not diligent about wearing freshly laundered clothes out of the house. I also found a double bourbon before bedtime helpful.

I’m so sorry this is happening to you, good luck and godspeed!
posted by Concordia at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2018


Update:

We just moved out a few days ago.

The second heat treatment was also ineffective, as I was still finding live bedbugs, likely from the neighbors or somewhere else in the walls. However, the landlord bought us bedbug catcher traps that go under bed frame legs, along with a cheap bed frame, so at least I was able to sleep in my own bed at night without getting bit until the moveout date.

Per Concordia's suggestion, we had a third heat treatment done immediately before moveout so that we could be as sure as possible that our belongings were bug-free.

Landlord paid for all the treatments and let us break the lease with no penalty. I kind of want to get our rent back too, but it seems unlikely.

For anyone reading this in the future, a wrinkle we ran into was that finding a new place was extra difficult because if anyone called our landlord for a reference, they found out that we were leaving due to bedbugs, which of course made them not want to rent to us. We eventually just got lucky, but it took a long time.

Good riddance.
posted by Questolicious at 8:11 PM on November 5, 2018


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