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No, Bedbugs Are Not Like Mosquitos

Maul Law Sept. 21, 2018

While summer is winding down in West Michigan, many may have noticed an uptick in mosquitos in the area. Though annoying, these minor pests are not long for this world. Fall, then winter, will soon be upon us and many will be longing for the days when a mosquito bite or two were the worst of their worries as they dig their cars out from underneath piles of snow or attempt to avoid sliding off iced-over roads on their way to work.

I make mention of mosquitos only because a landlord recently told me that a bedbug infestation in a client’s home was analogous to the upsurge in mosquitos around West Michigan. Not so! Although there is an ever-continuing debate over who is responsible, a landlord or a tenant, for pest control, bedbugs are unique insofar as they constitute a serious health hazard that may render a premises uninhabitable. In situations where there are multiple rental units infested, such as in an apartment complex, there is little doubt to be had that the landlord shoulders the responsibility of dealing with them. But how about when a rental is standalone, such as a house or trailer? Well, then the problem becomes a bit more complicated.

Under ideal circumstances, landlords and tenants will cooperate to eliminate an infestation. However, extermination costs can be substantial and so it is not uncommon to find landlords and tenants quarreling over who ought to pay for an exterminator and possible prevention services. A number of landlords have taken to putting provisions in their leases that shift the responsibility for bedbug control onto the tenants. Typically, these leases will come with riders (additional paperwork) requiring the tenant to do an inspection of the unit to determine if bedbugs are present. If no bedbugs are spotted, the tenant is to sign the rider. Should bedbugs become an issue, landlords will usually use the signed rider as proof that it is the tenant’s fault that the bedbugs are present, thus releasing the landlord from responsibility.

Not so fast. MCL 554.139(1)(b) demands that the lessor (landlord) promises “[t]o keep the premises in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license, and to comply with the applicable health and safety laws of the state and of the local unit of government where the premises are located, except when the disrepair or violation of the applicable health or safety laws has been caused by the tenants wilful or irresponsible conduct or lack of conduct.”

All in all, there exists a statutory presumption that landlords bear the responsibility for handling bedbug infestations, though there are certainly exceptions. If a landlord can demonstrate that the bedbugs were brought in by the tenants, such as purchasing used furniture that was not properly treated for bedbugs, the landlord may be able to evade responsibility. Similarly, some landlords have had success arguing in court that they are entitled to covenant away any responsibility for handling pests like bedbugs, often citing to MCL 554.139(2) for justification: “The parties to the lease or license may modify the obligations imposed by this section where the lease or license has a current term of at least 1 year.”

Oftentimes the question over which party ought to pay for extermination—landlord or tenant—comes down to an examination of the facts. Even so, if you are a tenant in West Michigan dealing with a bedbug infestation, you should not passively take your landlord’s word that you and you alone are responsible for the situation. Cost-effective representation is available from The Maul Law Group, PPLC. Get in contact with us today to find out more about your rights and what you can do to ensure that you and your family is kept safe from bedbugs.