Are bed bugs a landlord’s problem?

9 October 2023

Rik Smith, Director of Tenancy Services at Goodlord, explains how can landlords and letting agents support tenants when there’s an infestation - and whose responsibility is it to get rid of them?

It’s taking over the news at the moment - bed bugs are everywhere. In fact, as Sky news reports, the little bugs have hopped on the Eurostar from Paris and they’re now on public transport, in hospitals, and - inevitably - in the home. It makes your skin feel itchy just thinking about it, doesn’t it? 

While it’s easy to get swept up in the fear-mongering, really it’s about being practical and measured to get rid of them - and knowing who’s responsible for removing the pests.

  1. What's the problem with bed bugs?
  2. What are the symptoms of infestation?
  3. Is the landlord responsible for a bed bug infestation?
  4. When is the tenant responsible for removing bed bugs?
  5. How can letting agents and landlords help tenants to prevent an infestation in the first place?

What’s the problem with bed bugs?

Bed bugs are considered “nuisance pests” - which means that while they don’t spread harmful diseases, they’re a nuisance to live with and to remove. They are incredibly small - 5-7 millimetres long - and it’s easy for them to get into a home without anyone noticing.

Considering the bugs can live for up to six months without food, one of the most difficult problems people face is the fact they’re so hard to remove - and may only be noticed when there is a full infestation.

What are the symptoms of infestation?

Bed bugs often live in fabric, such as furniture and bedding, but can also hide under pictures, loose wallpaper, or even be on seats of buses or trains.

As they’re so small and only active at night, it’s often hard to spot the small creatures themselves. While it’s possible, it may be easier to spot the signs that they are there. 

The NHS lists the following signs of bed bugs as:

  • Small and itchy bites on exposed skin, such as the face, neck, or arms
  • Spots of blood on bedding (from squashing the bug)
  • Small brown spots or stains on bedding or furniture

Is the landlord responsible for a bed bug infestation?

When a tenant has a bed bug infestation, their first thought  may be to automatically call the landlord. This is where the idea of responsibility for removal gets slightly woolly.

Ultimately, a landlord’s responsibility is to ensure a property is suitable for a tenant to live. If a landlord lets a property that already has bed bugs, a tenant is well in their right to ask for the landlord to deal with the issue and remove them. This means that landlords are responsible for getting rid of bed bugs before a tenant moves in.

Shelter also highlights that infestations are a landlord’s issue if pests are coming through due to an issue with the property. For example, if the pests are coming through missing roof tiles, broken vents, air bricks, and leaking pipes. This is likely easier to prove for pests such as rats, where there is likely a clear entry point.

If the landlord is responsible for the issue, they should do all the necessary repairs and arrange a visit from pest control. If the landlord does not solve the issue, a tenant can seek further advice from the council.

What is the Decent Homes Standard? Find out more about landlords' responsibilities by downloading our infosheet.

When is the tenant responsible for removing bed bugs?

If a tenant has been in a property for a long period of time, it is likely that they have introduced the bed bugs themselves - whether the bugs were accidentally carried on suitcases/luggage or brought in by a guest. It is therefore a tenant’s responsibility to pay for pest control and removal. 

In all cases, the tenant should notify the landlord as soon as possible, in order to assess who will sort the problem and to keep an open dialogue on how they will be removed.

How can letting agents and landlords help tenants to prevent an infestation in the first place?

It’s good to get in the habit of regularly communicating to tenants the ways for them to stay safe and protected.

Encourage tenants to:

  • Wash bedding and clothes on a hot wash (at least 60 degrees Celsius) and tumble dry on a hot setting for 30 minutes
  • Put affected clothes and bedding in the freezer for a few hours before washing
  • Clean and vacuum frequently, and then tip out the vacuum quickly. (Bed bugs can live in the vacuum dust quite happily and escape).
  • Not keep clutter around the bed 
  • Check all secondhand furniture before bringing into the home
  • Don’t take clothes/luggage indoors if they came from somewhere with bed bugs

It’s also wise to send reminders to tenants when you see peaks in bed bug complaints in your area, or continual reminders to tenants who live in larger apartment complexes, where bed bugs would be able to spread far more easily. 

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This article is intended as a guide only, and does not constitute legal advice.

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