BED BUGS AND OTHER INFESTATIONS
Bed bugs feed on the blood of humans, usually at night. They are often found in dwellings that have a high rate of occupant turnover such as hotels, apartments and shelters. Bed bugs have six legs, a large antennae, and a flat oval-shaped body of roughly half a centimetre in length. Their light brown colour turns to rust-red after feeding.
Since bed bugs are not known to transmit infectious disease, they are not widely considered a serious health risk. As a result, the presence of bed bugs cannot generally be used as a valid reason to end your tenancy under the Residential Tenancy Act, or as a ground on which to apply for an emergency repair order through the Residential Tenancy Branch.
It can be extremely difficult to determine how bed bugs entered a rental unit – especially in multi-unit buildings. If you find bed bugs in your home, it is likely they entered through:
- cracks in the wall from an adjacent unit;
- shared laundry facilities;
- guests who spent time in an infested area;
- luggage from an infested hotel;
- used furniture; or
- a moving truck;
When trying to detect the presence of bed bugs, look for the following signs:
- small red bites on your body after sleeping (although bites are not always visible);
- eggs, skin shells, fecal matter, and blood stains at the edges of your mattress / box spring, behind pictures, in dressers, and along baseboards;
- an unpleasant musty, sweet and almond-like smell.
If you find evidence of bed bugs, inform your landlord in writing immediately and request that they treat the problem within a reasonable period of time. See TRAC’s template letter, Bedbugs, Rodents or Pests. It can also be wise to take photos, have a witness visit, and trap a bed bug in a sealed plastic bag.
Some tenants might be afraid to report bed bugs out of fear that they will be blamed for the problem, but the safest course of action is to notify your landlord as soon as you discover evidence of an infestation. Once notified, your landlord should hire a professional pest management company to inspect and treat any affected units on the property. Neither you nor your landlord should attempt to treat an infestation on your own.
If your landlord does not hire a professional company, you can apply for dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) to request an order that they comply with the law and fix the problem. Alternatively, if you live in a City that has a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw, a Bylaw Officer might be willing to inspect your property, issue warnings or fines to your landlord, or otherwise enforce the bylaw. Discovering bed bugs is not considered an acceptable reason to withhold rent or end your tenancy early.
There are two types of bed bug treatment:
- Pesticide treatment: People and pets are required to vacate for 2-4 hours and the unit must be ventilated upon re-entry. A second treatment is usually required 10-14 days later, as the first treatment will not kill any of the eggs that are present.
- Heat treatment: Only one treatment is generally required because the heat usually kills both living bed bugs and any eggs that are present. Heat treatment generally works better in smaller units but is more expensive than pesticide treatment.
The pest management company your landlord hires should provide instructions on how to prepare for the treatment. For pesticide treatments, the more common of the two types, here are some tips you might receive:
- reduce as much clutter as possible;
- bag clothing and linens that are not being treated;
- move all furniture away from the walls;
- do not flip any furniture, particularly mattresses; and
- vacuum all floor areas and dispose of the bag immediately in an outside garbage bin.
After treatment, any bagged clothing and linens that have not been treated should be hot laundered and put in the dryer on medium to high heat for a minimum of 30 minutes. If an item cannot be laundered, place it in the dryer for 60 minutes on medium to high heat. Do not put any of the laundered items back in their original bags.
Landlords are generally responsible for arranging and paying for bed bug treatment. According to section 32 of the Residential Tenancy Act, landlords must ensure that their rental property is suitable for occupation and compliant with health, safety, and housing standards required by law. In addition, Residential Tenancy Branch Policy Guideline 1 says, “the landlord is generally responsible for major projects, such as … insect control.”
For a tenant to be found responsible for the cost of treating a bed bug infestation, a landlord usually needs to show that the tenant not only caused the problem in the first place, but that they were negligent in doing so. In other words, it may not be enough for your landlord to show an arbitrator that you introduced bed bugs into your rental unit. To be successful, they may also need evidence that the infestation was the result of you acting in an unreasonable manner.
While it can be difficult to prove that a tenant was negligent in introducing a bed bug infestation, it is much more common for a tenant to be found responsible of exacerbating an infestation by not reporting it in a timely manner or not cooperating during the treatment process. If you cause an infestation to spread by unlawfully denying access to your unit or not following the pest management company’s instructions, your landlord could have a valid argument that you should pay for, or at least contribute towards, the cost of treatment.
Your landlord is generally responsible for getting rid of other types of infestations. As is the case with bed bugs, you are responsible for informing them right away of the problem and cooperating during the treatment, and they are responsible for arranging for the treatment.
The Government of Canada’s website on pests and pest control provides details about the most common household pests aside from bed bugs.