BED BUGS AND OTHER INFESTATIONS
Infestations, especially bed bugs, are a common problem in residential tenancies around the world. BC has seen a large increase in the number of bed bug cases reported in recent years. Bed bugs are small, oval shaped insects that feed on blood. They often hide in cracks or under mattresses, and bite sleeping tenants during the night. Bed bug bites are not always visible, but if they are, appear small and red, and can be very itchy. Generally, it is the landlord’s responsibility to treat infestations, while it is the tenant’s responsibility to inform the landlord of the problem right away and cooperate during the treatment process.
It is usually very difficult to determine how bed bugs entered a unit, especially in multi-unit buildings. Here are some common ways that bed bugs may enter a building:
- used or discarded furniture or items
- an adjoining unit through cracks in the wall
- a new tenant moving in from an infested unit
- guests who have stayed in an infested place before arriving
- luggage or clothing after staying in a hotel or other infested place
- moving trucks
- shared laundry facilities
If you think you have bed bugs, or are viewing a potential apartment to rent, it is a good idea to look for the signs. Possible signs of bed bugs include:
- Small, red bites on your body after sleeping (although bites are not always visibile)
- Blood stains or bed bug feces on sheets
- Adult bed bugs, eggs, or skin shells at the edges of your mattress or box spring
- Evidence of bed bugs in cracks in the wall, behind pictures, in dressers, or on upholstered furniture.
There are products you can purchase, or make homemade versions of, that can help detect bedbugs by attracting and trapping the bugs. One example is called BuggyBeds.
If you find evidence of bed bugs, inform your landlord in writing right away, and request that they treat the problem. Remember to keep a copy of the signed and dated letter that you send them. It is also a good idea to take pictures and take other steps to gather evidence of the problem, such as having a friend come over to witness it. If you find a bug, try to trap it and keep it in a sealed plastic bag. This will be helpful to show to both your landlord and the pest control company.
You can use our template letter – Bedbugs, Rodents or Pests.
Your landlord should hire a professional pest control company to inspect your unit, and if bed bugs are confirmed, treat it. Neither you nor your landlord should attempt to treat the bed bugs on your own.
If your landlord has not hired a pest control company within a reasonable period of time, you can apply for dispute resolution at the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) and request an order for your landlord to treat the unit. See our page on Applying for Dispute Resolution for more information.
You can also contact the city that you live in. Some cities have Standards of Maintenance bylaws, which often require landlords to treat infestations. A city may send a bylaw, health, or building inspector to inspect your unit and order the landlord to treat the infestation.
Do not throw away your belongings without getting instructions on how to dispose of items properly. It is also not a good idea to start sleeping on the couch, as this will just spread the infestation to the living room.
Discovering bed bugs is usually not an accepted reason for ending a tenancy early. Nor is it a valid reason to withhold rent, even if your landlord is ignoring the problem. Again, you will need to apply for dispute resolution through the RTB.
Here are some tips to help with the treatment process:
- Wash all clothing, towels, and linens, and put them in the dryer on medium or hot heat for at least 20 minutes.
- Bag any clothing or fabric that cannot be washed in a sealed, double plastic bag for at least 3 weeks. Do not keep the bag in the bedroom.
- Vacuum your unit using a vacuum with a disposable bag, which you should remove and double bag when finished. You should also wash the container and hose with hot water and a mild bleach solution to ensure no bugs remain.
- The pest control company may offer steaming as part of their service, but you can also do it on your own. A steam cleaner can be used to clean wooden and upholstered furniture, and cracks in the walls.
Before the treatment
Move all furniture away from the walls and remove dresser drawers and contents from closets. In general, make sure the unit is not cluttered. For example, remove everything from shelves and under beds.
During the treatment
Your landlord should give you 24 hours written notice of the date and time the treatment will take place. You should have the unit prepared for the treatment by moving furniture and eliminating clutter. You will need to leave during the treatment, and some tenants prefer to stay somewhere else for the night.
After the treatment
Follow the pest control company’s instructions about what to do after the treatment. Treatments usually take about a week to be effective, and often need to be repeated in a few weeks because eggs are not killed during the treatment. After treatment, wait seven days before vacuuming. You may want to put your mattress or other furniture in plastic bags to trap any eggs.
In general, landlords are responsible for treating infestations as part of their duty to maintain their property in a state that complies with health, safety, and housing standards.
In order for a tenant to be at fault, landlords need to prove that a tenant not only introduced the bed bugs to the unit, but that the tenant was also negligent in doing so. It is difficult to prove which particular tenant introduced bed bugs in a multi-unit building, and the test for negligence is high. Arbitrators have, however, found tenants to be negligent and awarded damages to landlords when the tenant failed to report the problem in a timely manner, or did not cooperate during the treatment. If a tenant does not report a bed bug sighting, and the problem becomes more expensive to treat, the tenant may be responsible for at least some of the treatment costs.
On the other hand, if a tenant reports the problem and the landlord does not treat it within a reasonable amount of time, the landlord may be responsible for any costs the tenant has incurred, such as cleaning and moving.
Sometimes tenants are afraid to report bed bugs or other problems for fear of the landlord accusing them of causing the problem. TRAC strongly encourages tenants to immediately report all infestations, or suspected infestations. If your landlord tries to get you to pay for the treatment, or refuses to treat it, you can apply for dispute resolution. Remember, evidence will be important so make sure that all communication with the landlord is in writing, and that you can prove the problem exists by taking pictures or getting a witness.
If you live in Vancouver, you can report buildings with bed bugs at bedbuglookup.com
Like with bedbugs, your landlord is generally responsible for getting rid of all other kinds of infestations. You are responsible for informing them right away of the problem, and cooperating during the treatment process. If your landlord is refusing to treat an infestation, you can apply for dispute resolution.
The Government of Canada’s website on pests and pest control provides details about the most common household pests:
- Government of Canada – Pests and Pest Control
- Health Link BC – Bed Bugs
- BC Ministry of Health – Bed Bugs
- Bed Bug Lookup (to report bed bug infestations)
- Tenant Survival Guide Chapter 5 – Pest Control
- RTB Policy Guideline #1 – Landlord and Tenant Responsibility for Residential Premises
- TRAC Standards of Maintenance Bylaws page