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Bed Bugs - A Guide for Renters

Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) LSC Funded

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are an insect that can live anywhere in your home, and if left untreated, can cause a major infestation.  Bed bugs have an oval shape like an apple seed, a flat body, and are red or brown in color.  Bed bugs do not fly, but can crawl very quickly. 

For more information, go to: http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/

 

How do I know if I have bed bugs?

  • Bed bugs will group most often in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and headboards.  Bed bugs can also be found in the folds of fabric of recliners and sofas.
  • Look for bed bugs by folding down the creases of your mattress; if you see brown or black streaks, or a moving collection of dark, flat bugs, it is likely you have bed bugs.
  • Bed bugs are transported in clothes, suitcases, and second-hand furniture.  They can also travel through wall, floor, and ceiling cracks, and on pipes and cables.
  • Bed bugs are usually active in the evening and at night.
  • Bite marks can vary in size and color.  They are similar to a mosquito bite and are usually small, red, itchy spots on skin. 

 

For more information, go to: http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/#identify

 

If I find bed bugs in my home, how do I notify my landlord?

 

If you find bed bugs, you should immediately tell your landlord.

  • Montana law requires that you send your landlord a letter to tell them about issues with the rental property.
  • You should send this letter by certificate of mailing so you have proof that you sent the letter.  Keep a copy of the letter and the certificate that the post office gives you as proof of mailing.
  • You should also call, email, or tell your landlord about the bed bugs as soon as you know about them.
  • Be sure to write down every time you communicate with your landlord to inform them of a problem.  This makes sure that you have a record of how often you tried to tell the landlord.

To get a form letter you can use to request bed bug repairs from your landlord, go to: www.MontanaLawHelp.org, then click on “Housing” and then “Repairs.”

 

I am moving in to a new apartment or home.  How can I tell if bed bugs have been a problem in the new place in the past?  Does my landlord have to tell me if there has been an earlier problem?

  • Montana law does not make your landlord tell you whether bed bugs have been a problem in your unit in the past.  But you can still ask.
  • Montana law does allow a current tenant to request the prior tenant’s cleaning and apartment inventory sheet from the landlord. By Montana law, you must make this request in writing.  It is best to send it by certificate of mailing.
  • The prior cleaning and inventory sheet may show if bed bugs have been a problem in your apartment in the past, but it may not, since bed bugs often don’t cause any actual damage to the building, just the furniture.  If the prior cleaning sheet shows that bed bugs were a problem in the past, make sure you ask your landlord about it and also do your own inspection of the apartment before you move your furniture or clothes in.

 

Other than notifying my landlord, what are my other responsibilities as a tenant if I find bed bugs?  What are my landlord’s responsibilities if I find bed bugs and notify them?

Both you and your landlord have responsibilities in the landlord/tenant relationship.  After you notify your landlord, your responsibilities do not stop there.  Below is a list of responsibilities that tenants and landlords have when a problem that requires repairs, like bed bugs, is present. 

            (1) Tenant’s Responsibilities When Bed Bugs Are Present:

Tenants have a responsibility under the law to keep their home as safe and clean as is reasonably possible.  Unfortunately, bed bugs are as likely to infest a safe and clean home as they are a dirty and unsafe home.

  • Tenants are required to remove trash in a clean manner.
  • Tenants cannot damage the premises.
  • Getting rid of clutter, especially items on the floor, makes treating bed bugs easier.
  • If you would like to read the Montana law, go to:

http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/70/24/70-24-321.htm

 

(2) Landlord’s Responsibilities When Bed Bugs Are Present:

  • Landlords are responsible under Montana law to keep all common areas of your unit clean and safe.
  • Landlords are required to make repairs and do whatever is necessary to keep your housing habitable.
  • When a tenant has bed bugs, landlords are required to pay for treatment unless the landlord can prove the tenant or the tenant’s guest or someone under the tenant’s control brought the bed bugs into the apartment.  It is hard to prove that it is the tenant’s fault in a multi-unit building.  It may be easier to prove fault in a single-family home. 
  • If you would like to read the Montana law, go to:

http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0700/chapter_0240/part_0030/section_0030/0700-0240-0030-0030.html

 

I have notified my landlord and my home is going to be treated for bed bugs.  How do I prepare my home for bed bug treatment?

The exterminator will usually give you a list of things to do to get ready. 

  • Most treatments require you to remove all bedding and covers from your mattress and box spring, and move furniture away from the wall.
  • Depending on how bad your bed bug problem is, the exterminator could ask you to empty your closets, drawers, and bookcases.  Preparing your home for bed bug treatment is very important.  If your home is not properly prepared, the treatment may not be effective.
  • Also, you can wash and dry your clothes and bedding on high heat to try and get rid of bed bugs.
  • For more information on how to get ready for bed bug treatment, go to:

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Urban/pdf/bedbugs-preparing.pdf

 

I have notified my landlord about bed bugs and the landlord has not done anything.  What do I do now?

  • Make sure you have followed the steps above:
  • (1) Write a letter to your landlord to notify them of bed bugs,
  • (2) Call or tell your landlord, and
  • (3) Keep a record of your communications with your landlord.
  • If you are not able to convince your landlord to take action, contact Montana Legal Services Association:
  • www.mtlsa.org
  • www.montanalawhelp.org
  • Help Line: 1-800-666-6899

 

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This pamphlet is meant to give basic legal information, not legal advice about your problem. The law changes often and each case is different. This pamphlet may not apply to your problem. You should not rely on it only. Please talk to an attorney about your problem.

Last Review and Update: Feb 05, 2013
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