We hear the stories all the time and see the pictures that make our skin crawl - sometimes literally!
Legally - what can be done if your apartment or - this time of year - your hotel room - are infested with bed bugs?
Below are some helpful tips:
HOTEL ROOM INFESTATION
In the event you check into a hotel room and find yourself riddled with inexplicable bites or a rash, first verify that you are dealing with bed bugs (there are ways to determine what the bed bugs, their larvae and their droppings look like by looking online).
- Notify the front desk – once you have verified the room does have a bed bug problem, go immediately to the front desk and ask for another room.
- If the other room also has evidence of the bugs, again, go immediately to the front desk and ask for a refund.
- Always check hotel reviews BEFORE booking. Many hotels, especially those listed through booking or travel agencies have a no refund policy.
- Refunds are completely at the discretion of the hotel. While some states have certain regulations as to whose responsibility the DAMAGE from the infestation is, usually the decision whether or not to refund your money is completely left up to the hotel.
- Notification – In the event you find that your apartment has bed bugs (there are ways to determine what the bed bugs, their larvae and their droppings look like by looking online) you should first contact your landlord and notify them of the situation.
- Chance to Rectify / Remedy – Once the landlord is notified of the situation, you must give them a chance to fix it. This means allowing the landlord to come into the property and inspect it, and allowing a bed bug treatment company to come in and treat the premises as well. The company should then also address how to ensure that your personal belongings are free from bed bugs as well
- Whose Responsibility Is It? – Many times when approached with a bed bug problem a landlord will attempt to say that it was the tenant / a tenant who brought the bugs in - and it may very well be. Unfortunately though, no matter how the bugs got there, it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that they don’t stay there. Landlord tenant law contains a warranty of habitability - that the premises are fit for someone to live in them. If the apartment has an infestation - it likely will not meet this standard. In addition to this, the Allegheny County Health Department’s Housing Code states that in a multi-unit building where the infestation is in more than one unit, it is the responsibility of the owner.
- If not rectified, call the Health Department and contact an attorney - you may have civil remedies such as a reduction in rent, or a lawsuit at a local magistrate for injuries and medical bills.
- As with so many other things - it’s not what you think but what you can prove. Document EVERYTHING.
- For apartment issues - make sure you take photographs of the way the apartment looks when you move in. Note any unusual odors or spots you see, and any evidence of any type of live bug or damage from bugs. It will be much harder for a landlord to argue that you brought the bugs in if you can show they were there even before you unpacked your first box. Conversely - if you are a landlord - showing pictures of a clean apartment before a new tenant moves in demonstrates that you delivered the property completely bug free.
- For a hotel room infestation - again document everything by taking photos. Almost everyone has a camera phone now - there’s no reason not to. Also keep a record of everyone you speak with at the hotel regarding the issue. Saying “someone at the front desk” told me there were no other rooms available doesn’t have as much weight as saying Joe Smith told you.
- Act quickly once you determine there’s a problem. It is much more difficult to argue your point when you are back at home and no longer at the hotel.
- Make sure that even if you aren’t successful in getting a refund from the hotel directly, you may still be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company.
As always to speak with an attorney practicing in the fields of landlord-tenant law or consumer issues, call the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (412) 261-5555 or visit us online at www.pittsburghlawyerfinder.org