Ask A Lawyer

Oct 042010
Authors: Kathleen Harward

Q:  Do I have to do everything my landlord demands to prepare my apartment for bed bug extermination?

A: The news is full of bizarre stories chronicling the resurgence of bed bugs across the nation. Nike’s flagship store in New York City was closed due to bed bugs infesting the merchandise. An attic fire in Denver left firefighters and their equipment covered in bed bugs hitching a ride out of the flames.

A prominent property manager has warned that the epidemic will hit Fort Collins. We’ve seen a few cases already.

The urgent question from affected tenants is who will pay for all the measures to get rid of these pests who live off our blood. The new Colorado Warranty of Habitability that took effect in 2008 makes it clear that landlords must pay extermination costs. What isn’t clear is how many of the other consequential costs the landlord should have to pay.

Those other costs are directly related to tasks the tenant must do to make extermination successful. The list is long and, admittedly, burdensome. Tenants must vacuum every crevice including behind electrical plates and dispose of the vacuum bags properly. In some cases, the infested mattresses or furniture must be completely discarded.

Before pest control comes, tenants must move all furniture away from walls to allow access to corners and seams, must empty out closets, desks and must launder or dry clean clothes at high heats. Clean clothes can be run through a dryer at high heat without washing. Clothes and other items must be bagged and placed on tile or non-carpeted areas to wait out the extermination.

The costs for tenants — laundry costs, time off work, vacuum rental, a night in a motel — might be significant. That cannot be an excuse for not taking the steps. Talk to your landlord if you absolutely can’t find the money or don’t have a vacuum cleaner.

Keep track of your receipts and use these for negotiation and compromise or small claims court later. The legal question is challenging: How far down the consequential chain should landlords be responsible? In most cases, landlords have no more culpability than tenants. It is hard, if not impossible, to prove who started the infestation. And even if you could, the culprit probably had no intention and most likely was not even negligent.

For example, it might have been a tenant who bought one of the pairs of infested Nike shoes or a chair with a cushion hiding some of the critters.

Landlords and exterminators don’t have the authority to rifle through tenants’ belongings to conduct the preparation themselves. Chemical extermination alone will not get rid of the bugs. The problem snowballs when multiple pest control treatments must be done and the exterminator finds apartments that were not prepared. Can the landlord then start charging those apartments for future pest control on the theory that failing to cooperate has caused the need for more treatments?

Bed bugs are a nasty problem that requires cooperation and communication between tenants and landlords. Don’t let the money challenges be an excuse not to do your part. If we truly are facing an epidemic, it becomes a community problem. The money can be found.

A related question has also come up. What if the landlord rented to you knowing there was a bed bug problem and failed to disclose that to you. Can you get out of that lease? The answer is probably yes. The Warranty of Habitability requires that the property be habitable at the time the lease is entered into. Bed bugs, though they do not pass disease to their bite victims, probably count as an “uninhabitable condition” under that law.

Your lawyers at Student Legal Services will help. The folks at Off-Campus Life are also uniquely situated to help due to their work and relationships with students, landlords and the community. Both offices are in the Lory Student Center.

Kathleen Harward is an attorney and director of Student Legal Services, which provides free legal advice to fee-paying CSU students. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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